Praise the Lard!

With gas prices jumping up and down, we figured we'd better check in with our old pal Scott Brown, owner of Desert Rose Biodiesel in Bozeman, and see if he's rich enough yet to buy us whatever we want at the gear shop.

Scott won't be taking us shopping, as it turns out, but that's mostly because we've been annoying him with phone calls since the spring of 2006, when he was brewing around 150 gallons of biodiesel a week from stuff like leftover grease. Two years and mounds of paperwork later, he's invested tens of thousands of dollars in the enterprise and is producing about 300 gallons a week out of 13 tanks—with seven more tanks slated to go into service soon. Gone is the lye—Scott has upgraded to potassium—and gone are the days of recreational manufacturing, because Scott is about to get his state and federal licenses. ("My IRS agent has been just about the coolest guy you ever worked with," he says, and he means it.)

So things are going swimmingly, but in an ironic twist of fate, gas prices are making biodiesel production more costly for everyone. That's because many of the raw materials needed to manufacture biodiesel must be delivered via truck. When we spoke to him, gas was still in the $4 range. Scott explained, "I could buy a drum of methanol for $2.25 a gallon; now it's $4.25 or $4.50 a gallon. Potassium was $1 a pound, now it's $2 a pound," he added. "That pretty much happened overnight—I got a notice after buying at $1.15 a pound; two weeks later it was $1.50; two weeks after that is was $1.75. The price of fuel is driving it all up—to ship stuff to Montana. Some truckers don't even like coming to Montana, because they leave empty—the state doesn't export anything!"

Regardless of the current environment, business is steady and Scott is making money. But will he ditch his other business (Desert Rose Catering) anytime soon to become the T. Boone Pickens of biodiesel? Hardly. "It's a Montana thing," he says. "You gotta have more than one job!"