Marine use of biofuels floated as Florida’s first biodiesel marina opens for business

In one of the first US commercial operations to boost the use of biodiesel amongst marine users, the 190-berth marina at Fort Myers’ Gulf Harbour yacht & country club in Florida is to become the state’s first biodiesel fuel marina from March 11.

From this date, marina owners, WCI Communities, Inc, will be supplying the B20 biodiesel mix product to marina customers, which is made from 20% soybean oil and 80% fossil fuel.

The move comes in the wake of the recent approval of a national tax incentive for biodiesel on February 13 by the Senate Finance Committee as part of a package of tax provisions promoting American energy security. For the next three years, a one-cent reduction in the excise tax for every 1% of biodiesel that is blended into standard diesel fuel – up to 20% total content, is available under the Lincoln/Grassley amendment.

This is the first federal tax break ever offered to biodiesel, according to the US’s National Biodiesel Board (NBB). The Senate’s energy package also made biodiesel an eligible fuel in a new initiative that calls for the US to increase use of renewable fuels to 5 billion gallons.

The environmental advantages of a biodegradable marine fuel are beginning to become recognised particularly by recreational marine users, according to recent NBB market surveys. The marine industry accounts for roughly 10% of the US petroleum diesel fuel consumption market. Based largely on programmes in the Great Lakes and Florida Keys, surveys indicated that there appeared to be a willingness to pay more for a more environmentally acceptable product. Marinas were the recommended focus for distribution because they are the primary fuel source for non-commercial boaters.

WCI is confident that once boat owners realise that switching to biodiesel will require no changes to their vessels they will choose to use the alternative. “We have held workshops for boat owners and boat engine mechanics to explain how the fuel does not require any kind of retrofit to the engine and that engine manufacturers indicate that biodiesel meets their specification requirements,” WCI’s Environmental Stewardship Manager Karen Childress told edie. “The price is a little more at this time, about eight cents, but WCI will subsidise the increase to encourage boaters to try the fuel.”

The process of changing fuels at the marina – where nearly 137,000 gallons of fuel were consumed last year – has been very straight forward, said Childress. “We researched for a distributor. We researched the product and made the decision,” she said. The research began in autumn 2001.

According to Childress, since WCI’s announcement, other marinas have inquired about following suit. “That’s the great thing about being a leader. Your decision can make a difference that leads the world to change,” she said.

Elsewhere, a two year pilot study is due to end this August at the Channel Islands National Park off the coast of Southern California, where pure biodiesel has been used to fuel the Pacific Ranger vessel used by the National Park Service (NPS) to monitor the health of the marine environment. Meanwhile, at Sayer’s Wharf in Newport, Rhode Island, since 1999, pure biodiesel has been used by the Wharf’s water taxis in another subsidised initiative to encourage use of the fuel.

The change to biodiesel fuel at Gulf Harbour is part of a major environmental programme at WCI’s marinas. In December 2001, the company made a $200,000 commitment in partnership with Lee County to form the Lee County Manatee Protection Trust. Gulf Harbour has also received an EPA award for an engineering design, which allowed the marina basin to flush in fewer than six hours.

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