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SUNDAY, MAY 27, 2007
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Decatur native starts biodiesel business, and stays involved with ballooning as a sponsor of Jubilee

By Patrice Stewart
pstewart@decaturdaily.com · 340-2446

While Drew Gentry crews for balloons that use propane gas, his new business focuses on a fuel that may help reduce United States dependence on foreign oil.

Gentry, a Decatur native who lives in Huntsville, and fellow student Justin Anthony from Birmingham, both 22, recently founded their company, EnerSight Fuels Inc., to produce biodiesel fuel.

Biodiesel is made from renewable sources such as soybeans, oils and fats. It does not contain petroleum, but it can be blended with regular diesel fuel and can run in any diesel engine built after 1993. With some adjustments, older engines can use biodiesel, too.

Gentry and Anthony, both of whom recently completed classes for degrees from The University of Alabama in Huntsville, believe their company will help the environment, lower carbon dioxide emissions and reduce fuel prices.

After months of research on biodiesel and the costs, markets and related issues, they put together a business plan. Gentry’s major in business and marketing and Anthony’s chemical engineering studies gave them the skills they needed to be accepted by the Huntsville business incubator, BizTech, in January.

Now they have an office at the business incubator and are networking and learning from potential investors and others with business experience to help refine their ideas. That helped them decide not to use agricultural stocks such as soybeans, which have gone up in price, to make their fuel.

Instead, they will partner with Xenerga, an Orlando firm that will, for a percentage of profits, install processing equipment for the location EnerSight selected in Putnam Industrial Park in Madison, train staff and sell them fuel stock from waste oils. Xenerga’s subsidiary has already built 136 biodiesel plants around the world and is about to open its first turn-key plant in Florida.

Gentry said work to install the process machinery should start within the next 60 days.

“I expect to have biodiesel coming from our plant by Oct. 1,” he said, and it could show up at the fuel pumps at your favorite gas station, labeled B20 for 20 percent biodiesel (and 80 percent regular diesel).

“We’ve already located enough customers for the output of the plant after talking to area petroleum customers,” he said.

EnerSight’s plant should produce 5 million gallons a year, running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, while his numbers show that 73 million gallons of diesel fuel were consumed in Morgan, Madison and Limestone counties in 2006. The closest similar plant is in Manchester, Tenn.,

“There are no tank farms in Huntsville; it’s all trucked in from Birmingham,” Gentry said. “The plan is to intercept 80 percent-full trucks as they arrive from Birmingham and top them off with biodiesel. We’ll use an injection blending system.”

Federal tax breaks are available for companies like EnerSight that make alternative fuels available, and the Alabama Legislature is considering breaks such as a nickel a gallon incentive for school systems using biodiesel for their buses.

Before he and Anthony incorporated their business last August, Gentry, a 2003 graduate of Decatur High School, had planned to use his business and marketing skills in some type of management job.

“I’ve always been good with people, and this was just a perfect outlet,” he said.

While his company can’t fuel the balloons, it is a Jubilee sponsor and is providing biodiesel for lights and food vendors this weekend.

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