Madison, WI: PrairieFire BioFuels

Several people on our journey suggested that we make a stop at PrairieFire BioFuels Cooperative in Madison. We swung by there this week and chatted with Jeff about our tour, Shaklee (he and his wife have been distributors for 13 years!), biofuels, and biodiesel vs. straight veggie oil. As far as I know, PrairieFire is the the only pump in the Midwest that offers B100, which is 100% biodiesel. Elsewhere, you can only find B5 or B20 (5% and 20% biodiesel). There are located on a very busy road in Madison, and they are doing a great job getting the word out there about alternative fuels!

There is always a lot of confusion between biodiesel and straight veggie…but they are really very different. Biodiesel is made through a chemical process called transesterification, whereby the glycerin is separated straight vegetable oil. The process leaves behind two products — methyl esters (the chemical name for biodiesel) and glycerin. Straight veggie oil is just what the name implies. Straight…with nothing added or taken away. Just filtered. In a nutshell, biodiesel uses a chemical process to change the viscosity of the fuel and straight veggie uses the excess heat from the engine to change the viscosity and runs it into a heated tank, through heated lines. Or to put it another way, when you run biodiesel…you’re converting the fuel. When you run SVO, you convert the fuel lines/tank.

And of course, as with anything new and “unknown”…there is controversy. There are political and ethical issues when you are raising large crops of food to turn into fuel (i.e. soybeans)…which is what many of the large biodiesel companies are doing. What started off as a grass roots movement…using waste (recycled) oil as fuel, has now been commercialized and could potential harm the environment in the process of making a product that is supposed to benefit it.

We chose to go the route of straight veggie because of the financial cost, there are no chemicals are involved in making it, and it’s clean burning. The overall cost, even including the veggie system, was still much cheaper than filling up on biodiesel for a cross-country tour. Don’t get me wrong, biodiesel is still much, much better than running petroleum gas in your car. But it does still cost a lot of money! Straight, waste veggie oil is free…the only cost you pay is the initial cost of the system and for filters. It also comes down to convenience. When you are driving on SVO, you can’t just pull up to the tank and fill up…and be done in 5 minutes. There is planning involved, and you might get your hands a little dirty (gasp!). Biodiesel can definitely make sense for someone who rarely drives, but still wants to make a difference and “clean up” their footprint.

It’s a long and lengthy discussion…and there is a lot of information on in the internet already about this debate. There is no silver bullet that will fix our transportation issues…there are so many different options out there. In my opinion, anyone who is making an informed decision to live greener is doing good. SVO is the way that we chose because it made the most sense to us. Research for yourselves and make the best decision for YOU.

Rock on, PrairieFire BioFuels…keep spreadin’ the love!

Photo album here.


  1. we are also svo users (actually wvo to be more specific). i couldnt agree with you more about the questions/reservations about the commercialization of the (over)use of such biofuels. too much reliance on veggie oil is just as bad as the current problem we have with gasoline just with different consequences. i wish there were one answer that would appease the masses but to me the answer is diversity among how we get energy. too much reliance on veggie oils has a lot of environmental consequences as you know.

    also i will add if you come through or near columbus, ohio we have some clean wvo for you guys!

    Comment by jenny — September 22, 2007 @ 10:03 pm

  2. I’d have to say that as someone who’s attempting to travel around the U.S. on biodiesel, it’s been a real nasty surprise to find out how inaccessible biodiesel can be in many parts of the U.S. We only get to fill up about 50% of the time with it, which is a real bummer. If we had our way, we’d be running SVO too, but logistics with our vehicle prevent that, for now. When we land somewhere permanently, we’ll be making our own fuel ourselves, or eventually getting the conversion kit for SVO. As far as price goes, it can range from being cheaper than regular diesel, to vastly more expensive (we paid $3.49/gal in Vermont last week!).

    Comment by Rene — September 23, 2007 @ 6:29 pm

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