MINNEAPOLIS, MN — For several weeks, customers filling their tanks at the diesel pump at the Apple Valley Marathon station have been getting a little soy-based fuel in the mix. The station, owned by the Farmers Union Co-operative, is the first in the area to sell "B2," a diesel fuel that contains a 2 percent blend of soy-based biodiesel, according to a report in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on July 14. Station manager Brent Dickson said that he hasn't seen much customer reaction to the change, even though the blended fuel costs about 3 cents a gallon more than the straight diesel he used to sell. Diesel sales have been about at their usual level, and he hasn't noticed any changes in buying habits. "There have been no complaints, but I don't think people are that knowledgeable about what it is," he said. By this time next year, biodiesel backers in Minnesota hope truckers and motorists who drive diesel vehicles will become as familiar with the term "B2" as the general public is with "ethanol." A 2002 state law mandating that all diesel fuel sold in Minnesota contain at least 2 percent biodiesel is scheduled to take effect as soon as July 1, 2005. However, there's a catch: the law says the requirement won't take effect until Minnesota has production capacity of at least 8 million gallons of biodiesel, and so far, capacity in the state stands at zero. Most of the biodiesel in use comes from plants in Iowa and Kentucky, said Ralph Groschen, ag-marketing specialist for the Minnesota Agriculture Department. There are at least three state groups working to change that, he said, but it's not clear whether any of them will have a biodiesel plant with enough capacity up and running in time to trigger the law. The largest project on the drawing board is a 30 million-gallon plant being planned by the Minnesota Soybean Processors Co-op in Brewster, Minn., where the co-op operates a soybean crushing operation. Bob Kirchner, president of the co-op, said that the biodiesel plant's start-up originally was planned for next spring but that it was put on hold because of last year's short soybean crop, and a tougher financing climate. Another issue was the failure by Congress to pass tax breaks for developing renewable energy sources such as biodiesel, he said. Dana Albers, fleet manager for Hennepin County, said the county started testing biodiesel blends more than four years ago in cooperation with the University of Minnesota. For 18 months, the county used a mix of 20 percent soy-based fuel and 80 percent petroleum diesel, and then switched to a mix of 15 percent soy, 5 percent used cooking oil and 80 percent petroleum diesel. In both cases, "engine performance was the same and wear was probably less" than with straight diesel, he said. "We're still driving those vehicles, and we had no fuel-related failures. We've run it in snowplows, other equipment — anything that's diesel." The county now is running all its diesel equipment on a 5 percent biodiesel blend, he said, which adds about 5 cents per gallon to fuel costs but has many other advantages. "It's better for the environment, cleaner-burning and reduces emissions, and it doesn't require any engine modifications," he said.