DIY Diesel 

For those curious about biodiesel, or looking for more resources, a one-day conference next week promises a wide range of assistance and insight.

The conference is put on by the University of Idaho, through a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The U of I connection is fitting, given the north Idaho school is one of the nation's leaders in the field of biodiesel, according to spokeswoman Becker Gutsch. The school's work began in 1979, when College of Engineering professor Charles Peterson began exploring the concept of agriculture-based fuels.

"He was the first guy to say, 'Will this work?'" Gutsch said.

"This," of course, is that mysterious blend of agriculture-based fuels. Gutsch says the conference will remove some of the mystery from the concept with practical explanations.

"Biodiesel is grown rather than a fossil fuel," she said. "It is environmentally friendly. There's far less emissions with biodiesel than there is with fossil fuel. There's less engine wear; it's a very clean-burning fuel."

Biodiesel has become almost commonplace around Boise. Many vehicles in the city's fleet run on biodiesel. Now Pocatello is considering making the switch.

The U of I was key to helping Yellowstone National Park convert its diesel vehicles in 1991. Now, she said, more than 50 parks across the country run vehicles on a blend of 80 percent traditional fuel and 20 percent biodiesel.

"No, it doesn't attract bears, although people aways ask us that," Gutsch said. "That was a big question, 'Are we going to have problems with bears?'"

The other myth she frequently busts concerns the smell of burning biodiesel. Although it does not smell like the exhaust of a typical diesel engine, it does not necessarily reek of french fries.

"It's a very clean, fresh smell," she said.

For the workshop next week, Gutsch said she expects to see a range of participants, from the average joe with a curiosity, to heavy fleet drivers and farmers. The course will cover a wide range of topics, not just how to make biodiesel, but how to store it as well.

--Shea Andersen

"Biodiesel in the Pacific Northwest," January 31, 7:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Double Tree Riverside Hotel. Cost is $105. Register online at www.uidaho.edu/bioenergy/HarvestVII.htm

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