From: Andrew Ragouzeos, The Hour, Norwalk, Conn.
Published November 15, 2004 12:00 AM

Norwalk, Conn., Home-Heating Oil Company Turns Up Bioheat with Soybean Oil

Nov. 15—NORWALK, Conn. —Abandon toxic oil and turn up the heat with beans. Yes, beans. Soybeans. Local home-heating oil company Devine Bros. is venturing into a new energy source: a revolutionary alternative home heating oil that has greater lubricity and performance standards. The new fuel is compatible with current heating systems and is environmentally friendly — comprised, in part, by soybeans.

Moreover, with the help of anticipated tax incentives from the federal government, Devine's "Bioheat" won't cost a penny more than diesel. "Getting into this the thought is simple: If you could reduce pollution, would you do it?" explains company president Michael Devine. "If you could reduce our dependence on international energy and help U.S. workers, would you do it? If you could improve performance without increasing cost, would you do it? This isn't rocket science."

The kind of science it is is forward-thinking. With America's increasing dependence on foreign oil and the rising price of petroleum, Devine said he's long felt it's time to take advantage of alternative fuels.

"It's the kind of product you dream of marketing. This (soybean fuel) technology has actually been around for 100 years," Devine explained, noting that he didn't become privy to its existence until last winter when he came across a flyer at a Christmas party from the National Biodiesel Board.

By February he was attending the organization's convention and was taking steps into making the product part of his company's inventory. Devine said that since he began blending his own Bioheat formula in September, his current stock is at 80,000 gallons of B5, which is 5 percent soybean oil and 95 percent No. 2 heating oil.

Although the soybean oil makes up a relatively small percentage of the blend, Devine maintains that if the product gets used on a widespread scale, it will decrease the country's massive dependence on foreign oil by five percent, while also increasing the business of domestic soy farmers.

"It would create a substantial shift in energy ownership," he said, making the example that assuming the Northeast U.S. is a 1 billion-gallon market, just 5 percent of that is 50 million gallons. Devine said he plans to upgrade to B20 if the market bears. Just as the prices at the pump fluctuate each day, so does the price of Bioheat. Last week the product was selling at around $1.94 per gallon.

According to the National Biodiesel Board, the average price of No. 2 diesel was set at $1.53 in mid-October. If President George W. Bush's recently proposed American JOBS Creation Act of 2004 is passed, the price of B20 will match that of No. 2 diesel through tax incentives for distributors.

Devine said that his primary motivation for the Bioheat venture is not to make a large profit, although he's fully prepared to do so.

"We can blend, store and (expand) this operation if it goes well, we're ready to do that," he said. "But if we don't sell one gallon, I'm still going to be glad we brought it to the market. And we'll use it all ourselves. I'm using it in my house now.

"We're not big business. We're local business," he continued. "We see it as an opportunity to make a real difference."

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© 2004, The Hour, Norwalk, Conn. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.

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