Fueling an interest in biodiesel

Imagine driving your car on a renewable energy source, saving money on fuel and emitting fewer pollutants while supporting local farmers. Sound too good to be true? Sunday’s Energy – a local company dedicated to environmental sustainability – is helping residents of Southwest do exactly that.

Biodiesel has been around for more than a century, but with recent gasoline shortages, talk of using the renewable fuel has only increased. Among the possible benefits touted by proponents are reducing the country’s dependence on foreign oil, cutting emissions by up to 90 percent and stimulating local economies.

The slick golden substance is derived from numerous sources like soybeans, cooking grease and hazelnuts. Biodiesel is so easy to make that, a few years ago, Kai Curry, executive director and founder of Sunday’s Energy, started a provisional filling station out of his Kingfield garage.

"There are pumps and meters and dispensers that are meant for farm use that I just bought and put together and used as this quasi-station," he explains. Nearby eco-conscious drivers with diesel engines in their vehicles took note. "People would basically come to my house all day with their cars and fill up on biodiesel."

Curry collected ingredients to make the fuel by driving a converted school bus to local restaurants and picking up their leftover cooking oil. He started out with three 300-gallon tanks in his garage and eventually upgraded to 500-gallon reservoirs.

"The demand for biodiesel just kept growing, and I was the only one, I guess, in the Twin Cities that really made retail biodiesel available," he recalls. "I would be getting calls from all over the place, including farmers that wanted like 7,000 gallons of biodiesel, which was like more than I could ever deliver in my 2,000-gallon truck."

A need for mass quantity wasn’t about to stop Curry’s drive for sustainability. He teamed up with a trucking company and began delivering larger amounts of biodiesel. To fill the bigger orders, he purchased fuel from commercial producers in Southern Minnesota. "The farmers were all for it because it was being made from the soybeans that they were growing," he says.

Eventually, the task of being Minneapolis’ only biodiesel retailer started to take its toll on Curry and his garage. He went from gas station to gas station asking if they were interested in selling biodiesel. Most of the stores shooed him away, but finally the Pump n’ Much on 63rd Street and Lyndale Avenue in Richfield expressed an interest. "It turns out that they were so excited because they thought they could get away with not having to pay us," he says. "They don’t sell biodiesel anymore."

Curry has found more agreeable partners in Richfield’s T & T Auto on East 66th Street and Portland Avenue and a station in Northfield, Minn. "We found an oil company that was delivering to the [Richfield] station that wanted biodiesel," he says. With the help of Sunday’s Energy, T & T Auto now sells a blended fuel made up of 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petroleum diesel. "They’re moving up to 50 percent," Curry says, and "pretty soon they’ll have 99 percent biodiesel." The station sells roughly 500 gallons a day, which Curry expects to increase.

Though biodiesel seems like a great solution for a petroleum-dependent country, it has a few downsides. For example, when switching from petrol-diesel to biodiesel, drivers may encounter clogged fuel filters because biodiesel is a natural solvent that will dislodge previous buildup. The renewable oil also tends to gel in colder temperatures, so Minnesota drivers need to use a blended fuel during winter to avoid potential problems.

Most importantly, biodiesel only has the potential to meet a portion of America’s demand because it takes a lot of crops to make the oil. Right now, Curry says, "we could replace 10 percent of the diesel fuel consumption if we made as much biodiesel as we could." But, he goes onto explain, using biodiesel is only a small piece of the sustainability puzzle.

Founded in 2003, Sunday’s Energy has become an umbrella company for numerous green outfits that seek to bring about local and international change. The organization in charge of the biodiesel sector is called Biodiesel People; Sunday’s Energy also oversees a residential- and commercial-energy-audit organization, web design firm and used bookseller.

"We receive thousands of books – almost on a weekly basis – from libraries and organizations that have book sales," Curry says of Sunday’s Energy’s "Books for the Future" program. "We take the books that didn’t sell, and we bring them here and list them all over the Internet, sell them, and for every book that we sell, we plant a tree."

"Books for the Future" has adopted a village in Senegal where all of the trees are planted. According to Emily Whebbe, the staff member in charge of the project, they brought in roughly 1,000 books in the first week and currently sell 30-40 books daily.

"The trees that they grow [in Senegal] are providing shade to keep the water and the soil, but also, produce a fruit that’s really high-protein and really high-oil. So, they’re able to extract the oil, use the protein to eat, but then use the oil to power diesel equipment," Curry explains. "It’s like this whole closed-loop cycle."

Interconnected, eco-driven companies that help one another are what Sunday’s Energy is all about. Curry, 23, estimates that they start up one new company every three or four months. The organizations aren’t fully staffed and take time to find their footing, but once they become successful, Sunday’s Energy fades into the background, acting as bookkeeper and occasional consultant.

At its core, however, Sunday’s Energy is rooted in biodiesel. "It’s what we are most capable of delivering when it comes to a sustainable solution to consumerism," Curry says.

Reach Mary O’Regan at [email protected] or 436-5088.

Sunday’s energy

What started as a biodiesel fuel station in a Kingfield garage has grown into a comprehensive resource for environmental sustainability. The 12-person team oversees an energy-audit organization, used book seller and biodiesel consulting firm. It also hosts green workshops.

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