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Reducing Pollution . . . One Soybean At a Time

By LINDA COBURN Contributing Reporter After 20 years as a technician on film and television productions, Vojislav “Voya” Mikulic decided to take on one of the entertainment industry’s biggest challenges: pollution. In November 2006, UCLA’s Institute of the Environment called out the film and television industry as Los Angeles County’s second-largest polluter. Only the petroleum industry contributes more greenhouse gas emissions to the region. As a gaffer, or chief lighting technician, Mikulic knew about the pollution firsthand. “We had issues at times where we had to move a generator because the (diesel) fumes would bother the neighbors,” he said. “We have even had to shut down production at times, and that becomes very costly.” Mikulic said he had heard about biodiesel and thought that might be a way to make a dent in the problem. He and his wife, Patrice, spent 18 months researching the product. They looked into making their own fuel from recycled oil you’ve heard about people running cars on used fast-food fryer waste but there were too many potential problems and costs associated with that. So they focused on biodiesel, primarily because it can be used in any existing diesel engine, with no modifications required. Most of the generators and many of the large trucks used in film and television production are diesel-powered. Biodiesel is a domestic, renewable fuel for diesel engines derived from natural oils like soybean or rapeseed oil. Fuel-grade biodiesel is produced to strict industry specifications (ASTM D6751) in order to insure proper performance. “It is not vegetable oil,” Mikulic clarified. “It is made from vegetable oil but it is a methyl ester.” Mikulic’s fuel is imported from the Midwest and is made from virgin soybean oil. After much research and market analysis, consisting mainly of talking with others in the industry and getting an enthusiastic response to his idea, Standard Bio Diesel, Inc. was born in a small office in Woodland Hills. Mikulic said they started making deliveries in May and each month sales have exceeded the previous month. In September, they sold about 8,600 gallons while by mid-October nearly 12,000 gallons had already been delivered. They now have three delivery trucks (which all run on biodiesel) and a trailer. Mikulic himself drives a VW Golf powered by biodiesel. He, like his other residential customers, keeps a 55-gallon drum in his garage and fuels up as needed. “It’s very convenient,” he said. “You don’t have to go to a gas station.” The company offers three different biodiesel formulations, according to Mikulic. “One is B99.9, which has .01 percent petro diesel mixed in. Then there is B20 Clear, which is 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petroleum diesel; and we also have something called B20 Red which is simply B20 with a red dye in it. That’s for generators and off-road equipment. The only difference between the B20’s is that B20 Red customers don’t have to pay federal and state highway tax which adds up to about 42 cents a gallon.” Business is split about 50/50 between private and business users at present. “We’re concentrating on the film industry as far as business and since May we’ve signed up more than 50 customers,” Mikulic said. One of his best so far is Southern California Disposal and Recycling of Santa Monica, a solid waste collection company providing service primarily for the West L.A. area. “We had thought about using biodiesel in the past, but we were skeptical,” said Vice President Mike Matosian. “The last thing you want is a broken down 25,000- pound truck in the road somewhere.” Unfortunately, their first experience with a product purchased from another company fueled their skepticism. Their filters were clogging up. “There was some gummy kind of substance in the filters,” said Matosian, “and we tried all different kinds of things and it came from a reputable company.” Although the company was about to give up on the biodiesel experiment, they decided to give Standard Bio Diesel a shot. “We’re using Standard Bio Diesel’s B99.9 blend,” said Matosian, “and we’re very happy about it.” The company presently runs four of their collection trucks on biodiesel. Standard comes out and fills up the fuel tank they have on their premises. “We think it is possible to be both profitable and to be good stewards of the environment,” said Matosian. “We want to do our part and hopefully be an example to others.” Pacoima-based gaffer, Flint Ellsworth of Iron Light, uses Standard’s biodiesel to fuel his trucks and lighting generators. “On location, we’ll be using generators,” said Ellsworth, “and also if we’re on one of the smaller lots, that just has converted warehouses as sound stages, they often don’t have enough power for what we do so we typically use generators there also.” One of the things he likes about biodiesel is that emissions from engines running on the fuel are less carcinogenic than those from petroleum diesel. “The less emissions from petroleum diesel we can be in the vicinity of, the better,” Ellsworth said. That’s what Mikulic likes to hear. “It’s good for the companies, for their crews, for the cast, for the neighborhood,” he said. “That’s why I decided to change my career.”

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