A new fuel plant in a small industrial park here promises to help the environment, reduce America's dependence on foreign oil and even help struggling farmers turn a profit.

The GeoGreen Fuels biodiesel plant has been pumping out about 8,500 gallons of fuel a day since it began operating last month. It is mixed with regular diesel fuel to lower the sulfur content of the diesel. The resulting concoction complies with new federal requirements for cleaner-burning diesel.

"It's not a polluter," said plant manager Dustin Blumenthal. "You don't get the emissions problems you get with petroleum diesel."

Biodiesel is biodegradable and nontoxic, and it produces 50 percent less carbon monoxide, 80 percent less carbon dioxide and 20 percent less particulate emissions than petroleum-based diesel when burned. The only byproduct of the production process is glycerin, which can be used in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals or as a binder in animal feed. And though the little refinery's production of 3 million gallons a year is barely a drop in the bucket of the country's annual usage, such plants are popping up across the country.

"We are trying to get people to understand that we are reducing our reliance on foreign oil," Blumenthal said. The plant represents a $3 million investment in Gonzales and provides eight jobs. In a small town such as Gonzales, that's worth celebrating. The potential impact of the plant could be far greater, though, company officials said.

GeoGreen plans to build a crushing plant next door to extract the oil from crops such as soybeans, cottonseeds and sunflower seeds that provide the raw material for biodiesel. Now, the company is buying soybean oil on the open market.

"The crushing plant could be huge for the farming community," Blumenthal said. "It gives them a whole new outlet for their crops, and the farmers could become a part of the fuel production cycle."

However, there are few row farmers left in the Gonzales area. Chicken and cattle ranching are big business in the area, but Ehrig said he knows of only three other farms in Gonzales County that grow corn, milo or cotton.