Clean Fuel Lakeland — A company with a new product and a new way of making fuel is providing a boost to the Lakeland economy.

In February, the U.S. Department of Agriculture selected Lakeland-based Ocean Air Environmental Fuels and Glycerine LLC to participate in its $300-million program designed to bolster domestic alternative fuel production. Out of the $300 million, Ocean Air has received $37 million.

The USDA’s Bioenergy Program, announced in October, makes cash payments to companies that increase purchases of corn, soybeans and other commodities to produce ethanol, biodiesel or other biofuels.

But before the grant came, Ocean Air had already taken a step toward fostering economic development. Ocean Air purchased a factory not hitting on all cylinders and turned it into a moneymaker, said Wes Berry, plant manager.

“It didn’t take us long to make the conversions to the facilities and show a profit,” he said.

When Ocean Air got news of the grant, it and its partner, California-based World Energy, hosted some of the nation’s fuel researchers, engineers and officials to show them the latest in production and commercialization methods for biodiesel.

Biodiesel is a nontoxic, ether-based biodegradable diesel substitute made from vegetable oil or recycled cooking oil. It can fuel diesel engines with no modifications to vehicles or their fueling equipment.

The only problem remains the price. It can run a bit high.

But the recent volatile nature of oil prices is helping that problem.

“We’ve been using the fuel for more than a year now and are impressed with the changes in vehicle performance — which are none,” said Mickey Harrison, district fleet manager for the state of Florida Department of Transportation division of Operations and Maintenance in Bartow.

However, Harrison said the alternative fuel comes with environmental and safety benefits.

“We also use it because it doesn’t burn the workers’ eyes the way pure diesel did,” said Harrison.

Others support the alternative fuel’s production, too.

“The bottom line is that the fuel works as well as diesel, is less damaging to the environment and is relatively affordable,” said Scott A. Mueller, fleet superintendent for Florida Power Corp. in St. Petersburg.

Along with the local users and industry representatives, many university and economic board professionals attended the informational tour.

Jon H. Van Gerpen, a professor with the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Iowa State University’s School of Science and Technology, said the supply of biodegradable diesel substitute is far behind the need in the United States.

“This is technology that has been used in Europe for more than a decade now that is only beginning to receive the kind of attention it merits from the public and from businesses,” said Van Gerpen. “This is just the tip of the iceberg, as I see it.”

The Florida Department of Transportation in greater Tampa has used more than 45,000 gallons of biodiesel since May.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture projects that during the next 10 months, biodiesel production will increase by 36.5 million gallons.
Ken Salgat   Staff Writer, Tampa Bay Business Journal

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