Our journey into Biofuels started on August 30th 2005, that is the day Hurricane Katrina landed on shore in New Orleans. Just 3 days after the hurricane hit, the entire east coast ran out of diesel fuel and the price spiked nearly $3 per gallon. For Dean Price it was a “wake-up” call.
Price came from a family of tobacco farmers in the Piedmont Triad region of North Carolina. During the early part of the 2000’s, Price opened a number of fast-food restaurants, convenience stores and truck stops along US 220. Price witnessed first hand the decline of all three of the region’s important industries: tobacco, textiles and furniture.
After Hurricane Katrina led to diesel shortages, Price became enamored with the idea of biodiesel. He believed that biodiesel, made from locally-grown crops, could help struggling local farmers, while also avoiding what he believed would be the catastrophic consequences of resource depletion, income inequality and environmental degradation.
In 2009, Price built a refinery that would refine locally-grown canola into biodiesel, which was then sold at Price’s truck-stop Red Birch. This was the first establishment of its kind in the country and it attracted the attention of the Obama Administration. This experience was chronicled in the New York Times best selling book and 2013 National Book Award winner entitled “The Unwinding” by George Packer. Unfortunately, Price underestimated mother nature and the amount of crops that would be needed to sustain a constant flow of biodiesel for his truck stop. He knew that biodiesel was still imperative to making Americans less dependent on foreign oil and creating a more sustainable future for our country.
Price soon realized that there was a large supply of less expensive feedstock within every community at the local restaurants and grocery stores in the form of waste cooking oil. After this a-ha moment Dean realized that, if given the opportunity, the owners of these establishments would much prefer to see their waste oil, which was always viewed as trash, do something good. Price talked to some local restaurant owners about his idea of collecting the waste cooking oil and converting it into biodiesel to fuel the school bus fleets. All of the restaurant owners that he spoke to were very excited to be able to do so much good with what is essentially their trash. By keeping the waste cooking oil local and converting it to biodiesel for school buses, restaurants could help contribute to a a new market that provided local jobs, supported the local economy, improved the air quality for the children on the bus and supported schools without doing anything other than agreeing to let Price collect their oil and convert it into biodiesel. This was the inception of the Biodiesel 4 Schools program.