Rising Phoenix Biofuels owner Dave Tourzan sits atop a tank of biodiesel for sale in Phoenix, one of four sites to buy the alternative fuel in the valley. 3/1/08 Denise Baratta

Fuel Sell

Though he's not making much money at it, David Tourzan wakes up every day and dedicates himself to an ideal: to help America become energy independent from oil-rich countries whose product not only can lead to conflicts but doesn't do the atmosphere any good, either.

He pounds the pavement, works the phone and Internet, does the books — everything down to filling the windshield washing fluid to keep Rising Phoenix Biofuels up and running.

Tourzan could be teaching math and science in public schools, but pushing biodegradable, carbon-friendly fuel seems like a niche where he can make a difference, he says. Tourzan markets not just the biodiesel but the concept: vehicle fuel made in this country from vegetable oil plus ethanol or methanol, which doesn't cause global warming.

Tourzan gave up his job teaching at Armadillo Charter School in Phoenix and still substitute teaches at Ashland Middle School, but the bulk of his long work day goes into calling up possible fleet customers, trying to talk them into putting biodiesel in their vehicles.

It burns in any diesel engine with no alterations, but vehicles made before 1996 may require an inexpensive replacement of rubber tubes.

A cheerful warrior in a world still hooked on fossil fuel, Tourzan admits that for every 30 calls he makes, 29 think he's "pushing a gimmick."

"So I take the approach that this is a domestic product that reduces our dependency on foreign oil, supports American farmers and is less toxic. I don't mention carbon dioxide," he notes with a laugh, while leaning on the $100,000 tank, pump and other technology he bought with his own money.

About a third of it has come back to him in state bio-energy tax credits.

In addition to making cold calls and updating the Web site, Tourzan gives educational talks at local schools, colleges, cities and corporations.

"I believe in the product. I feel good when I fill up my car. When it's petroleum that I buy, I feel I've contributed to a lot of death and destruction. Biodiesel feels better. I've got kids. I want them to be able to swim in the creek and not be too hot in summer."

Tourzan doesn't make biofuel or collect grease. He buys it from a producer in Eugene. He must add 1 percent gasoline to it in order to get a federal tax credit of $1 a gallon. He lives on a 10 percent markup, which pays back his loan to the company over 10 years. To keep going, he must charge prices above gasoline — so it's $4.26 a gallon now.

Most of his converts mix biodiesel with regular diesel, with 80 percent regular diesel common among most fleets. Tourzan personally trouble-shoots if customers say their engines run rough on biodiesel. Recently, when one driver complained his 2005 Dodge Sprinter got 25 percent less mileage, he surfed blogs till he learned it had to swap out its 10-micron fuel filter for a 5-micron filter, then it would run fine.

It's been a hard journey and the corner hasn't been turned yet for Tourzan. He muses, "I would have done a lot better just buying government bonds "¦ but every little step helps."

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