One of those consumer-members is Isaac Moore, the proprietor of Morningstar Ranch. Moore grows grapefruit, avocados, persimmons and organic produce for local retailers. He makes his own biodiesel using a 200-gallon reactor and used oil collected free from local restaurants.

Moore buys his methanol and caustic chemicals from the cooperative at a discount. He says he finds the co-op’s glycerin-disposal service very helpful. “It works really well,”he says.

He’s exploring the idea of growing his own oilseeds as a winter crop, which the cooperative would crush for him to extract the oil. “I'm looking forward to expanding our relationship. You know, you don’t go into business, you grow into it.”

Hill would like to see Promethean’s full-service approach expanded into what he calls “full-circle integration.”

“We have local restaurants that make a point of supporting local farmers,”he says. “I'd like to see the cooperative supply cooking oil to the restaurants at a discount brokered by the co-op, then collect the used oil to make biodiesel, some of which would be used by the farms to run their equipment. The profits would be distributed to the members.”He says that some major fast-food chains already use a similar system.

The cooperative is currently working toward meeting the certification requirements of both the ISO 9000 standard —which addresses product quality and meeting customer needs—and the ISO 1400 standard, which sets environmental performance goals.

“When we’ve got those certifications,”he says, “they'll support continuity in the organization when we have personnel changes. We’ll have a foundation of standards that’ll help us maximize value to our members.”

Launch problems

Getting the cooperative up and running posed special problems, including more legal and regulatory issues than he had imagined, as well as his own inexperience in the field.

“Biodiesel has been around for 100 years,”he says, pointing out that Rudolph Diesel originally saw his invention as allowing farmers to grow their own fuel. “I thought that it would be something you could set up like a McDonald’s. After all, they were doing this kind of stuff in the 1940s during the war.”

In fact, he discovered that each biodiesel plant is unique, with a bewildering number of variables affecting the final design. “That really affected our budgeting,”he says. “We went over budget by maybe 150 percent.”

Although the city of Temecula agreed to accelerate the granting of permits, challenges still cropped up. Plans had to be approved by the fire department and environmental standards also had to be met. The expiration of the federal tax credit for manufacturers of biodiesel is another concern, although Hill says the operation can survive without it.

“We have to get out of the ‘build’mode and into the ‘how do we service our members’mode,”he says. Meanwhile, the co-op is looking for more members who want to be part of the biodiesel movement.