Putting Your Biofuels Where Your Money Is

As gas prices rise and greening your corporate fleet can offer both a marketing move and a budget plan, it was only a matter of time before biofuels started filling more company’s fuel tanks. Hot on the heels of GM’s recently unveiled investment in Coskata, Virgin Airlines said it plans to fly on a wing, a prayer and a tank (or so) of bio-jetfuel from London to Amsterdam, while retail grocery operator Safeway revealed its entire California and U.S. trucking fleet is being powered by the bio-stuff.

Demand for biofuels — especially ethanol and biodiesel — seem destined to rise as corporate trucking fleet operators looks to reduce costs. Wal-Mart has already said it plans to double the efficiency by half (and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent) of its trucking fleet by 2015, and it’s rumored to be considering using biodiesel to achieve that goal.

In the meantime, Safeway says its has converted its entire fleet of more than 1,000 trucks to cleaner-burning biodiesel fuel. The move will help reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 75 million pounds a year, according to the company, the equivalent of taking some 7,500 passenger vehicles off the road annually.

Of course, when calculating your personal carbon footprint, airfare always undoes any attempts to live lightly on the earth. Virgin has run many novel marketing campaigns, and it seems now that Sir Branson wants to run the first green airline. A biofueled hop across the Channel could be a draw for eco-conscious European travelers, especially if it doesn’t cost more.

As demand rises and ethanol plant construction gets straightened out, it will be infrastructure that limits biofuels in the short term. GM plans to ramp up flex-fuel car production (50 percent by 2012), and the Energy Bill biofuel mandates will soon kick in (36 billion gallons of ethanol annually by 2022). But it’s the local gas station that will need to catch up. Currently, fewer than 1 percent of gas stations in the United States offer E85 while 2.4 percent of the American auto fleet can burn it. While corporate fleets are finally starting to get behind biofuels, we’re left waiting at the pump.

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