Couple to heat home with biodiesel

Alternative fuel is renewable, designed to cut toxic emissions


October 30, 2003|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

Whenever she can, Heather Helfrich fills her Mercedes 240D with a specially blended diesel fuel designed to reduce emissions of toxic gases.

So when she and her husband, Wilhelm, installed a new furnace in their home last month, it seemed natural to use the same alternative fuel source to heat their house.

The couple will become Westminster-based Tevis Oil Co.'s first customers - and, perhaps, the first in the Baltimore area - to use soy biodiesel for home heating when the company's fueling truck makes a delivery stop today at their house in the Upperco area of Baltimore County.

Biodiesel, an alternative fuel made from animal fat or oil extracted from vegetables such as virgin soybeans, burns more cleanly than other home heating oils because it contains no sulfur or petroleum, said Tom Verry, director of outreach at the National Biodiesel Board in Jefferson City, Mo.

Even blended with petroleum, which is how it's most commonly used, biodiesel has demonstrated substantial environmental benefits, Verry said.

"It smells like french fries," Verry said. "Diesel hurts your eyes and nose, but biodiesel doesn't have that sting anymore."

Although it's most often used in diesel vehicles and farming equipment, it can be easily used in traditional heating oil furnaces without modifications.

But the practice is rare because of higher costs, said Charles Miller, a researcher at the Maryland Energy Administration, an independent state agency that directs conservation programs. The Helfriches will be paying $1.58 a gallon for biodiesel, which is about 20 cents more than traditional heating oil.

"Most people feel that their heating bill is high already," Miller said. He said that, other than the Helfriches, he does not know of any residential customers using soy biodiesel.

For the past two years, Tevis Oil has been offering soy biodiesel at its two filling stations, the Taylorsville Shell station and the Bare Truck Center in Westminster.

Not only is biodiesel more environmentally sound, but it can also reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil, said Stanley "Jack" Tevis III, president of Tevis Oil, founded by his family in 1932.

"We're in it for the long haul," Tevis said. "The economics will work in [biodiesel's] favor the more people know about it and use it."

Elsewhere in Maryland, Tri Gas & Oil in Federalsburg has been selling biodiesel to farmers, federal agencies and local municipalities for the past three years, said Seth Powell, the company's wholesale sales representative.

The company is about to sell the alternative to its first residential customer.

Powell said he knows of one other Maryland company besides Tevis and Tri Gas & Oil that sells the alternative fuel.

Heather Helfrich, the Upperco woman, decided to get biodiesel for her furnace after hearing about it from her neighbor. Tevis Oil will provide a blend known as B20, which contains 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petroleum-based oil.

Though cost was an issue, Helfrich said, the long-term benefits make the short-term sacrifice worth it.

"We would get away from nonrenewable products," she said.

"You could plant soybeans, but you can't get more oil. It's going to run out someday."

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