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Sustainable Start-Up Trains Haitians to Produce Biofuel

Bill Roth | Friday March 26th, 2010 | 0 Comments

ban-startup-fridaySirona is a Celtic mythological god of healing, his healing touch is needed in Haiti today. It is also needed for the American economy and our global environment. Paul and Michele Lacourciere are two wonderful people who have adopted Sirona as the symbolic inspiration for their business and foundation that is building sustainable solutions for Haiti, America and our world. Their story embodies the very essence of all that is good and positive about the American spirit.

I heard their story through an organization called Vocari that hosts presentations focused upon the quadruple bottom line of profit, planet, people and purpose. At a recent meeting, Paul and Michele presented their story of transformation, where they shifted their lives from the American dream where Paul held a partnership with a major law firm with Michele fulfilling the roles of wife, mom and community activist, to starting a business selling biofuels and a foundation creating a sustainable economy for Haiti.

They formed Sirona Fuels to sell bio-diesel in the United States. Their first refinery is in Oakland, Calif., where they harvest spent cooking oils and convert them into biodiesel. They created Sirona Cares Foundation to help Haiti. And they created Sirona Procurement and Marketing to finance a sustainable economy in Haiti where farmers grow Jatropha on non-agriculture land to produce the oil that can displace the expensive imported diesel fuels that currently serves as the fuel of choice for the island’s transportation and electricity systems. Their motto for describing what they are attempting is “sustainable fuels, sustaining lives.”

The strategy works like this: Jatropha is a weed that requires little water and cultivation and will grow on land that is unsuitable for agriculture. It produces a seed that can be crushed to produce oil, which can then be converted into biodiesel. The unused portion of the Jatropha plant, called a seed cake, can be used as fertilizer for the growing process. Paul and Michele have the vision for using this plant to create a system in Haiti that creates a cash crop for small farmers using land not suitable for agriculture and producing a fuel that can be used to increase the availability of electricity within Haiti, while also reducing the financial burden of importing expensive diesel fuel.

Their Sirona Cares Foundation provides the micro-loans to the farmers to start a Jatropha crop. Sirona Procurement and Marketing guarantees a market for the farmer’s seeds and turns the seeds into biodiesel that is sold at a much lower price than today’s cost for diesel in Haiti (and if the market for this fuel is insufficient in Haiti then they export the fuel for sale into the USA). A percentage of the revenues from selling the biodiesel goes back to Sirona Cares Foundation to grow this sustainable cycle. The end result is a path for Haitians to have electricity, to have funds to dig wells for clean water and to have cash to survive. The end result is a sustainable path of hope for people that have suffered so much for so long.

Sirona Fuels in the United States has developed a similar sustainable cycle that combines business enterprise with advancing social progress. In the United States, Sirona Fuels works with local schools to engage students on both an educational learning experience about renewable energy and as a path for generating extra cash for their schools. In this system, the students go to their local fast food restaurants and ask for their used cooking oil, so they can use to as feed stock for Sirona Fuels. Sirona Fuels takes the cooking oil, coverts it into biodiesel, sells it and then returns a percentage of the proceeds back to the schools that enabled the process.

The top question asked at the end of the Lacourciere’s presentation was, “How can I help?” There are three key areas they do need help with:

  • One is fundraising for the Sirona Cares Foundation to accelerate the expansion of their seed-to-fuel-to-family prosperity-sustainable economy for the Haitians.
  • The second is writing your Federal legislators asking that they support the re-instatement of the expired investment tax credit for biodiesel. Remarkably, in this current time of bail outs, Congress has allowed this key tax credit, supporting the economic maturation of biofuels, to expire.
  • And finally, they need talent of all kinds. As entrepreneurs, they value good people and have the creativity to figure out how to use a good person’s skill and experience.

So if you are a triple-bottom-line individual looking for your purpose, please think about Sirona and contribute your healing powers in support of Paul and Michele’s efforts to make a difference for Haiti, America and our environment.

Bill Roth is founder of EARTH 2017 and author of The Secret Green Sauce.


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