Gilbert is drafting an ordinance governing home manufacturing of biodiesel products - just as one of the town's newest employers is firing up a biodiesel processing plant.
Gilbert fire Chief Collin Dewitt said some calls have been coming in to the town's code compliance and zoning departments from residents interested in saving the planet or some money by filling the tanks of diesel-fueled vehicles with homemade biofuels, usually a blend of methanol and vegetable oil.
Dewitt said the practice can present some risks when done at home, but the town doesn't want to discourage it, and is not planning to charge a fee for the permits that would be issued under the proposed law.
"It absolutely goes along with the political climate of the day, of being self-sufficient and not relying so much on foreign oil," he said.
Residents could store no more than 80 gallons of biofuel at one time at their homes, but the main safety concern lies with the methanol, Dewitt said. Home-owners would be restricted to storing no more than 10 gallons at a time.
"Methanol is as flammable as gasoline and we restrict the storage of gasoline to 10 gallons at a time at home, so using the same amount for methanol seems reasonable," Dewitt said.
Anyone making biodiesel at home would also have to have a certain type of fire extinguisher which requires some caution when it comes to placement. "There's some potential for them to give off fumes, so if you place it close to the fence the neighbors could be able to smell it, and that's not good for relations with the neighbors," Dewitt said.
Home kits for converting vegetable oil to biodiesel are sold online beginning at about $3,000, and after that the cost per gallon is around 60 cents to 80 cents, or about a quarter of the average price of a gallon of fossil-fuel diesel at the pump.
But Dan Rees, co-owner of AZ BioDiesel, said that figure doesn't include the value of the time spent making the fuel, and many in the "home-brew community" where he and his sons got their start are eager for the company to begin selling to the public, which should happen in a few weeks.
"The majority are not making it at home because it's cheaper," he said. "The amount of effort it takes to make biodiesel is enough that after people do it for a while, they'll decide it's well worth $4 a gallon at the pump. But (biodiesel) is not available."
So he and his sons are setting up shop in a plant near Cooper and Guadalupe roads, recruited by town officials after they ran into trouble trying to get established in Chandler and Phoenix. Their first 750-gallon batch was under way Friday afternoon, but they won't be selling that.
"We're going to horde it for ourselves," he said. "We've been running our trucks on regular diesel for the last three months."
After that, he said, the company's first customers will include local school districts looking for a less toxic way to fuel their buses and a waiting list of 200 people from across the Valley who have ordered a 250-gallon tote of biodiesel. The company plans to hold a public grand opening within the next two months, he said.