Sean Michael Dargan admits he is "biodiesel crazy." One of the founding members of PrairieFire BioFuels Co-op, which started in 2005, Dargan bought his first diesel car in 2001 and started using biodiesel fuel.
"Biodiesel promotes better fuel economy," explains Dargan. "Since it is made from soy beans, much of it locally grown, the effects of biodiesel and vegetable oil are not as negative on the environment."
Dargan helped host the PrairieFire BioFuels Co-op membership meeting on Thursday night at the High Noon Saloon. The annual meeting brought out an eclectic group of supporters, from school teachers to ex-hippies to local band members. The co-op now has 274 members.
Woody Osborne, a Madison resident, was asked by one of the co-op's board members to come see what the biodiesel lifestyle is all about. "I'm just here feeling stuff out," says Osborne. "I don't know if this change is right for my lifestyle right now."
Biodiesel costs around $3.21 per gallon -- more than the cost of a regular gallon of gas right now. But people who use biodiesel do so for the environmental benefits. Biodiesel and vegetable oil are nontoxic and biodegradable. PrairieFire members also say that they get better gas mileage.
The co-op runs a shop on East Washington Avenue that sells biofuel or vegetable oil. The group converts an average of two vehicles a month to run on used vegetable oil. (The shop just converted its first semi and the first tractor for a farmer who grows canola oil, another source of alternative fuel.) Much of the used vegetable oil comes from local restaurants, and is processed by a side company, Coulee Region BioFuels, for use in cars.
Ken Fitzsimmons, lead singer of The Kissers, was at Thursday night's meeting. His band has toured in a van that ran on vegetable oil.
"I tried to promote the use of vegetable oil when I could and I volunteered in the PrairieFire shop," he says.
Thursday's meeting ended true to form for the PrairieFire Co-op: beer for the adults and pizza for the kids, with plenty of music to go around.
In the future, Dargan says board members hope this new form of political and environmental activism will continue to grow. "I hope the co-op will add new members," he says, "and spread the word about how groovy biodiesel and this co-op are."