Saying the biofuels industry is "in its death throes" because of a lack of acceptance of the alternative fuel, Rising Phoenix Biofuels has closed after nine years in business.
The Phoenix-based company sold a quarter-million gallons of biodiesel, adding $1 million to the local economy, owner David Tourzan said, but repeated attempts to market to municipalities, farmers and fleet owners failed.
The company sold its last gallon on Sept. 4 and removed the tank on Wednesday.
"Rising Phoenix stayed true to their vision of never selling carcinogenic blends of petroleum, and only ever sold 99.9 percent biodiesel, with one gallon of petroleum added to every 1,000 gallons so their distributor could get the $1 a gallon federal tax credit," Tourzan said in a statement, referring to his business in the third person. "Staying true to local fuel may have cost them their business."
Tourzan bought his biodiesel from Sequential Biofuels in Salem, which made the fuel from used vegetable oil collected all over the state. Rising Phoenix sold only 99 percent biodiesel at its retail outlet, he says, but was able to have any percent blended by Medford Fuel on request.
Diesel at gas stations is 5 percent biodiesel, by state law.
Tourzan met with Ashland officials on several occasions, but the city declined to use his fuel, said Public Works Superintendent Mike Morrison, because the city's diesel must be no more than 20 percent biodiesel, with the rest being regular fossil fuel diesel.
"The warranty on our vehicles is only good up to 20 percent biodiesel," said Morrison. "If it's more than that, it can plug fuel filters, grow bacteria and, at below 35 degrees, start to gel ... . Twelve years ago, we tried using 50 percent biodiesel on a small portion of our fleet and we had a lot of problems."
The quality of biodiesel has been better among larger manufacturers, said Morrison, and the quality in general has improved a lot since then, however, "we've always been real conservative."
"We'd hate to have an ambulance break down on a call," he said.
In attempts to market to organic farmers, Tourzan offered five gallons free at Growers Markets but didn't get a single taker.
"That's when I knew the game was over," he said. "It was the price and the fear of wrecking engines. A lot of start-ups went out of business. We've been through the rise and fall of the industry. Biofuel is in its death throes."
Tourzan supported himself as a teacher during his firm's life. Neither he nor two other workers ever got paid, he said, adding that he priced the fuel at 10 percent above the cost from Sequential, as a community service.
"A majority of petroleum profits leave our state to support foreign dictatorships, leaking Alaskan pipelines across wilderness areas, and Gulf Oil spills, but 100 percent of Rising Phoenix Biofuels profits stayed in Oregon," Tourzan said in his statement.
"Although they are disappointed to be dissolving their business," he wrote, "they are proud to have been a pioneer and saved the local air and water from carcinogenic chemicals. Their sales alone were the equivalent of removing 50 cars worth of pollution from our children's lungs."
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.