When I hear news about an oil pipeline leaking or a load of fuel spilling, I’m reminded why I prefer the model of fuel production and distribution that is happening right here in Maine.

A local company, Maine Standard Biofuels, operates on a small scale to recycle used cooking oil and process it into diesel fuel and soap. I spoke with Alex Pine, who is in charge of Outreach and Technology.

Maine Standard Biofuels, which was founded by Jarmin Kaltsas, has ramped its production up slowly and now has the capacity to produce half a million gallons per year. Even with production increasing, the company values keeping the operation local to reduce the environmental footprint.

The refinery is on Ingersoll Drive near Riverside Street in Portland, where there is easy access to the highway, and a significant population of diners eating fried food.

Maine Standard Biofuels collects oil from restaurants from Connecticut to Bar Harbor. They deliver fuel in bulk as far north to Bath, south to Saco and west to Casco.  There is a fuel pump at their facility for smaller quantities.

The company is proud to work with other local businesses. DiMillo’s restaurant is one source of cooking oil. Oakhurst Dairy trucks have used their products since Maine Standard Biofuels started.  City of South Portland vehicles run on the fuel, too.

Besides localism, another goal of the company is waste prevention. The cooking oil that enters the refinery is used completely.  Commercial products are biodiesel fuel and heating oil, cleaners, and lubricants.

The remaining material goes into a methane digester and generates electricity.  Additional electricity to run the plant is from local renewable resources through the Maine Green Power program.

The fuel produced by Maine Standard Biofuels is 1-B grade, which is the best for cold temperatures.  It is made solely from vegetable oil, so it has good cold flow properties, compared to average biodiesel in the U.S.  Other biodiesel producers may use animal fat which will jell when it is cold.

Maine Standard Biofuels offers B99, which includes .1 percent petroleum diesel.  In winter, customers use a 20 percent blend by adding more petroleum to the B99.

B99 from Maine Standard Biofuels is a drop-in replacement for petroleum diesel.  Domestic engine manufacturers support the use of commercial biodiesel blends, which must meet American Society of Testing and Materials standards, but they are wary of fuel made in the back yard.

If changing from petroleum diesel to biodiesel, one precaution is to replace the vehicle’s fuel filters.  Filters may get clogged because the biodiesel has solvent properties and may dissolve residue from petroleum diesel that was previously used.

Once the petroleum residue is cleaned out, the fuel filter change intervals can be lengthened, though, since the biodiesel is so clean.   

Jennifer Brennan of Great Diamond Island was one of Maine Standard Biofuels’ first customers, running biodiesel in her 2003 VW Jetta for 10 years.  She commuted to Augusta, so the Riverside Street fuel pump was out of her way, but she carried a spare can with her since there are no toxic fumes.

The lower price and the environmental benefits made the inconvenience worthwhile.  Brennan’s Jetta never had any mechanical problems from the fuel.  She highly recommends it to other drivers.        

Compared to petroleum diesel, biodiesel burns cleaner, is less toxic, and biodegrades faster.  It comes from renewable resources, and can be produced domestically.

The midweek price at Maine Standard Biofuels was $2.70 per gallon. The price at a chain location in South Portland was $2.55. There have been times when biodiesel has been less expensive than petroleum diesel.

If you drive a diesel, try B20 this winter or B99 in the summer. If not, at least think of fried clams when you spot a Maine Standard Biofuels bumper sticker.

Ruth Morrison is an Automotive Technology Instructor and Department Chair at Southern Maine Community College. She holds certification as an ASE Master Technician and Advanced Level Specialist and was a former Ford Senior Master Technician.