Biodiesel not just for cars any longer

    We’ve all heard of using biodiesel to power cars. Now, a growing number of people are using fuel derived from vegetable oil to heat their homes.

    In 2006, the energy industry trademarked a term for blends that contain small percentages of biodiesel —  2 to 5 percent — mixed in with heating oil. Since then, the number of heating companies selling the product, Bioheat, increased from six to more than 200 nationally.

    Two years ago Steven Foulk, who heads a family-owned heating and cooling company in Medford, N.J., started selling the biodiesel mix to all of his residential customers in South Jersey. He said he made the switch because the largely soy-based biodiesel he uses decreases dependence on foreign oil. What’s more, it burns greener.

    “It burns cleaner and more efficiently,” Foulk said. “To equate it like a car, you’re getting more miles per gallon out of the same gallon.”

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    Longtime customer Nick Matteo said he is happy with the change he has noticed since Foulk’s company started delivering the new mix to his Marlton, N.J., home. The last time he had his furnace cleaned, Matteo said the workers remarked how much less gunk had built up than usual.

    “And I said ‘I know, I usually see what you look like when you’re done,’” Matteo said. “They vacuum it out and they get black all over them from the soot from the oil burner. And not so this time.”

    A gallon of biodiesel costs about $1.50 more than a gallon of heating oil in the current market. Foulk said because of the low 5 percent mixture he uses, he is able to sell it at about the same price as traditional fuel oil.

    Most furnaces can run on up to 20 percent biodiesel without modification.

    According to the EPA, straight biodiesel emits 50 percent fewer greenhouse gasses over its lifetime than petroleum-based oils.

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