Gowanus Lounge: Serving Brooklyn

Urban Environmentalist NYC: Tri-State Biodiesel

July 16th, 2008 · 1 Comment

Here’s one of our weekly features from the Center for the Urban Environment (CUE). This week’s interiew is with Tri State Biodiesel owner Brent Baker, who CUE found through the Sustainable Business Network NYC, a network of businesses dedicated to building a vibrant, diverse and responsible local living economy in New York City.

Q: Where are you from originally?

A: I grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Q: What a different topography from New York City! Are the comparative environmental issues different as well?

A: New York and New Mexico are two very different places. One thing they do have in common is that they are both very exceptional American cities that break the mold of what an American city looks like. The air is a lot cleaner in New Mexico

Q: What lead you to the biodiesel industry?

A: A passion for environmental issues. I was an advocate for organic foods and natural building as well as a global warming educator prior to my obsession with biodiesel.

Q: There has been a lot in the news recently about the connection between alternative energy resources and food systems. What merit is there in the argument that biodiesel shifts the global balance and creates competition between food and fuel, particularly in developing nations?

A: When the media says biofuels are making food more expensive, what they should be saying is that corn ethanol (one of many biofuels), not biodiesel, is a minor contributor to rising food costs. The main factors to rising food costs in the US are growing demand driven by China and India, a weak dollar, bad weather, and high fuel costs. With soy-biodiesel, the food part of the bean is still used for food, so soy-biodiesel actually encourages more food production, not less. Here at Tri-State Biodiesel we use waste cooking oil to make biodiesel, so in our case, we are actually making fuel out of a waste product, that is not competing with food at all.

Q: How did you choose the location of your business?

A: We knew we wanted to be on the Brooklyn waterfront in a heavy industrial zoned site and worked with Southwest Brooklyn Industrial Development Corporation to find our space in Red Hook.

Q: Red Hook is changing dramatically, along with the rest of the City—how do these changes affect you and your business?

A: Were excited about the changes in Red Hook so long as they are done in smart way. Its important to retain manufacturing and jobs in the neighborhood.

Q: What do you like best about your neighborhood and /or customer base?

A: Tri-State Biodiesel offers free waste cooking oil collection service and sells clean burning biodiesel fuel in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx. So really our neighborhood is the whole city.

Q: For an industry layperson like myself, the idea of re-using cooking oil is very exciting— can you give a rough percentage estimate on how much cooking oil is re-used (as compared to) how much is thrown out in New York City?

A: Right now we are the only waste collection company in town that recycles cooking oil into biodiesel and makes that fuel available locally. So the amount of cooking oil that is recycled into clean burning biodiesel fuel is still quite low. We should be doing better as a city, we owe it to our kids who breathe the air. Since our cooking oil collection service is clean, professional, reliable and free, there is no reason why a lot more restaurants shouldn’t be signing up.

Q: If you got together with other business owners in your community—what would the hot topics be?

A: The high-price of fuel and taxes in New York, and the importance of creating a cleaner, greener, friendlier New York City.

Q: In many ways, biodiesel responds to the “triple bottom line” of environmental, political and economic benefits— how does it compare on price?

A: Biodiesel fuel can be used in any diesel engine without modification. Biodiesel puts out about 75% less emissions than conventional diesel fuel, and is 90% less toxic according to the American Lung Association. This business is good for the environment, good for health and also helps the city properly dispose of a nuisance product that ends up in city sewers costing tax payers millions to remove. Best of all biodiesel fuel is sold at or below the pump price of diesel in NYC.

Q: What are the salient challenges that face your business?

A: I would have to say the cost of doing business in the city. Compare NY to NJ and you find much higher land prices, higher taxes, higher fuel prices (due to taxes), higher regulatory fees, etc in New York. This is why a lot of industry is based in New Jersey rather than New York.

Q: Yes. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has added the industrial heritage of the Brooklyn waterfront to its annual list of the 11 Most Endangered Places (see the Municipal Art Society of New York’s website). The issue of keeping industry in the borough is a real one…

A: I agree.

Q: What are its greatest rewards, then?

A: Having a business in the greatest city in the world.

Q: If you could pass a law tomorrow that would help small businesses locally, what would it look like?

A: Permanent industrial areas and lower taxes and fees on industry. Otherwise we lose our good middle class jobs and ultimately our ability to get things done in the city.

Q: What role do sustainable businesses like yourself play in the story of keeping industry alive in the city?

A: What we need is stable “green collar” jobs that help us improve our city and bring it into the future while we retain a robust middle class here in our city. Otherwise we would become a city of only super-rich and their servants, the kind of city that can’t even change its own tires. We need local industry, we need local economy, we need people who can fix things and build things and keep this city vital. It’s what makes America special and we should not take it for granted.

Q: Is there something that I have not asked you that I should?

A: Biodiesel is great for the city because it creates about 75% less emissions than conventional diesel fuel and can be used in any diesel engine without modification. Pure biodiesel exhaust is 90% less toxic than diesel fuel and is available locally for truck fuel AND as clean-burning heating oil for your buildings boiler. It can save you money and save the environment. lf people would like to find out more about biodiesel and Tri-State Biodiesel’s sustainable approach to biodiesel production please call 646-432-5759 or visit www.tristatebiodiesel.com.

Q: Thanks for taking the time out to answer these questions.

A: You’re welcome. Thanks for inviting me to the Lounge!

Interview conducted by Rebeccah Welch, Associate Director of Public Affairs at the Center for the Urban Environment. As a guide to a greener New York City, the Center is dedicated to educating individuals about the built and natural environments. For more about our work visit www.bcue.org.

Tags: CUE · Red Hook

1 response so far ↓

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