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Madison’s biodiesel sourced locally, helps state economy

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DEFOREST (WKOW) -- Renewal Energy Group Madison employs 26 people at its refinery plant in DeForest, and they help keep the place humming twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

The plant itself has been in existence since 2006, but REG bought it in 2013. By 2016, they were running biodiesel operations out of the building.

"We are certainly the biggest and best quality plant for production in the state of Wisconsin," said plant manager Brian Coker. "It's a very safe and effective process, doesn't require a lot of energy, doesn't require a lot of inputs chemically."

Biodiesel is an alternative to petroleum diesel that Coker said cuts down on carbon dioxide emissions. It's made from corn, soybean, or cooking oil.

Those that produce it mostly blend it with diesel, and higher blends are more environmentally-friendly.

In October, the city of Madison became the second public fleet to use a 20 percent biodiesel blend in its fleet of trucks. Milwaukee has done it in the past, but no longer does.

Every truck the city owns, whether it's a fire truck, garbage truck, or snow plow, is powered by biodiesel.

"We've reduced about 2.3 million pounds of carbon dioxide since 2018," said fleet superintendent Mahanth Joishy. "The biggest environmental impact we're having is biodiesel."

In the winter, the fleet goes back down to a 5 percent blend because biodiesel is more likely to freeze. Joishy said they hope to do a pilot program next year where they have a 50 percent blend of biodiesel and petroleum diesel.

The renewable fuel can also reduce the United States' dependence on imported fuel and foreign oil.

"We've got farmers who are producing corn, and that corn is going to ethanol. And then the corn oil from those ethanol plants is going to our plant and we're producing biodiesel from it." said Coker. "It's great from that perspective. It's adding to the economy. It's adding to local jobs."

REG mostly uses secondhand corn oil, which comes from ethanol facilities across the state. Those state facilities also source locally, from farmers or restaurants.

"Our motto at REG is food than fuel," said Coker. "We don't like to take anything out of the food distribution channels."

Biodiesel also keeps price pace with regular diesel.

Joishy said he hopes more public fleets will start using biodiesel. Currently, only Milwaukee and Madison have gotten very far with it.

"Unfortunately, a lot of people in the fleet industry don't believe the environment's being damaged, don't believe that carbon dioxide is bad, don't believe it's bad for their health or for the planet," he said.

Coker said that while Wisconsin hasn't mandated its use or anything, those who fill up with diesel at the pump may actually have a little biodiesel in their tanks already.

"Actually, if you're buying diesel at a pump, chances are very good that you're getting at least 5 percent and maybe as much as 20 percent biodiesel in that diesel fuel already," he said.

Wisconsin has adopted several incentives to encourage businesses and other public entities to use biodiesel blends. For instance, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction can provide financial aid to school districts that want to purchase biodiesel to fuel school buses.

"We really need everyone to be a part of these fleet sustainability efforts for us to make a dent in the environmental impacts we're talking about," said Joishy.

Sara Maslar-Donar

Reporter, WKOW 27 News

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