Thursday, December 16, 2010

Could it be the return of the biodiesel credit?

Wow! It looks our congress might have a change of heart on the biodiesel credit. In the article below, you can read that it may be considered for renewal, along with a pile of tax cuts. I'm not sure how I feel about renewing some of the tax cuts personally, but it sure would be nice for some biodiesel plants in the country to open back up for business.

UPDATE: I just read that the bill, officially called the Tax
Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010, passed in the Senate. It is now up to the House to approve the bill and send it on to the President. Here is the press release from Big Biodiesel.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Fossil Fuels Subsidies 12X Clean Energy!?!

I had heard anecdotally that fossil fuels received substantial subsidies, and probably more than renewables. As you know from reading here, the federal biodiesel production tax credit expired just shy of a year ago, so that just adds insult to injury in my book. Here is an article on Treehugger that discusses a recent study by the Marshall Business School at USC, which found that around the world, fossil fuels receive 12 times the subsidies of renewable or clean energies:

So, I kinda understand the unwillingness of US citizens to subsidize biodiesel. The nation is in rough shape and a lot of people are out of work. The biodiesel manufacturers should be able to stand on their own, but the point of subsidies, in my understanding, is to help a nascent industry to establish its footing in developing market share, distribution, etc.. Biodiesel as an industry has not been around for terribly long, and certainly not as long as fossil fuels such as coal or petroleum. Yet, as the USC study indicates, fossil fuels continue to receive piles of subsidies.

A footnote on the Treehugger article above mentions that Obama tried to eliminate almost 40 billion dollars in coal and oil subsidies. I realize that the federal government is attempting to reduce the deficit, so if they don't renew the biodiesel production credit, so be it... but get rid of the subsidization of fossil fuels to level the playing field a little. Drop a line to your representative in the state and federal government. All the closed biodiesel plants around the country might stand a chance of re-opening if they could actually compete with Big Oil.

OK, I'm getting off my soapbox... for now.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Cold weather and cottonseed

It is blustery weather we are having around here the last few days! It is even a little chilly in the biodiesel plant now, as you can see from the thermometer and biodiesel in the picture above. I've inserted insulation into the warm weather exhaust fan boxes to help keep the cold outside. Notice the sample jar on the left with the white stuff in the bottom? That is biodiesel from poultry fat that I processed back in May for the fellas over at BW Fuel. All the saturated fats in that fuel just don't handle the cold too well. David over at Piedmont Biofuels said he had to heat up a truck's manifold this morning due to some chicken fat biodiesel solidifying.

I've been working with Lyle and David over at Piedmont Biofuels on some cottonseed we got from the Rolling Hills Gin in New London. This is the same ginner that makes the raw materials for TS Design's Cotton of the Carolinas(CotC) -- what an awesome project. Check out their website to find out how they are growing cotton and making them into shirts with only 750 miles traveled. Now, compare that to the thousands of miles most t-shirts people wear. But, I digress.

We have been talking with Eric Henry of TS Designs, the guys at Piedmont and Tom Wedegaertner from Cotton, Inc, about making some biodiesel from cottonseed. Here are some mason jars of cottonseed oil(CSO) obtained from Tom recently. Note the little tufts of fiber and the brown chunk in the foreground. The former is linters, the short fibers ripped from the cottonseed. The latter is a soapy mass of stuff that comes from the caustic stripping process of refining CSO.

We are currently running some tests to see if we can skip the refining process and make crude CSO into biodiesel. We have heard that it has been done before, but would like to see what, if any, conversion losses occur. Also, we want to try crushing the cottonseed without first delinting. We expect to see some loss from the linters absorbing the CSO, but want to quantify that first.

Check out the TS Designs Facebook page where they posted some pictures from the Piedmont Biofuels mobile tech trailer, where David, Lyle and Eric crushed some Rolling Hills cottonseed.

Stay tuned for more results and information on the CotC biodiesel project!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Reusing water to wash biodiesel

I mentioned in my previous post that the waterfall from the back of the building inspired me to pursue alternative water sources for use in making biodiesel. I haven't started collecting rainwater yet, but I bumped into one of my totes and realized I have another resource for the time being. The totes in the picture above are water from the spigot which is used during methanol recovery to chill the methanol vapors and condense back into the methanol tank pictured below.

So, I generally water the plants in the STARworks garden that are not watered with drip irrigation, but often there is more water used than the plants need. I redirect this water into totes for Anne or anyone else to use in the garden. I finally realized today that I should be using this water to wash biodiesel, rather than pulling more water from the spigot.

I pieced together the necessary hoses and fitting to make this work and commenced washing a small batch of biodiesel recovered from wash water and glycerol totes. I should explain that a little biodiesel is inevitably drained in the process of removing glycerol and/or wash water from the reactor and wash tanks. Since biodiesel is less dense than either of those, it will eventually settle to the top of totes. I carefully drain this biodiesel and put it in a tote or barrel until I've accumulated enough to wash and polish it into finished fuel. You don't want this unwashed biodiesel to sit around too long as it will eventually oxidize and become unusable as fuel. All is not lost as you can re-react the oxidized biodiesel, but that's not efficient use of time, money and other resources, so its time to wash some fuel!

When washing biodiesel to remove soaps created in the reactor, I typically add, then drain water a few times to get the soap content in the biodiesel down to less than 200 parts per million before drying and sending to the ion exchange column for polishing. The wash water can also be reused from one batch to the next allowing me to further reduce resource utilization. After I empty one of these totes of water, I will connect it to one or more of the downspouts to use rainwater instead for washing and perhaps chilling during the methanol recovery process. I will need to setup some sort of filter for the detritus in the runoff from the roofs. Until next time....

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Waterfalls at STARworks

Wow! We had a really hard rain Tuesday afternoon as you can see in the picture above. My car was at the foot of the waterfall before I took this picture. While my biodiesel jetta needed a car wash, this was a bit much! The section of the building from which this water is coming is slated for removal thanks to a grant from the Golden Leaf Foundation. The roof in that area leaks severely. Yesterday I really wanted one of the old 6400 gallon tanks to catch some of this water. Rainwater catchment is on my to do list now. The guys next door to me in ceramics filled one of those old tanks yesterday with rainwater from the roof of the clay factory, which they will use to make and sell local clay. Check out the STARworks Ceramics website for more information.

The picture below is a shot of the two inline Bell & Gossett water pumps which circulate water and glycol through the heat exchanger on the furnace in our glass studio. I mentioned in my last post that Jim Gosnell and I installed these little guys. Did I mention they are really quiet? I have to hug the tank(carefully) to try and hear the water returning from the furnace. There are now 3 of these pumps for the process heat system, each of which consumes less energy than a 100 watt incandescent bulb. Many thanks to Jim for all his hard work on this project!

Hopefully you can read the numbers in the readout below. The top number, 181, refers to the temperature in fahrenheit of the process heat tank. The smaller number below,130, is the set point for the auxiliary 6 kilowatt electric heater.

I was really excited to see this Monday morning because this is the highest temperature the process heat system has achieved solely on waste heat from the glass furnace. The tank gained almost 40F over the weekend. This temperature is not far from the most I will need in any of the procedures for making biodiesel and will help us save money. My next money-saving project involves installing radiant heat barriers on the reactor, which will also cool down the ambient temperature in the plant considerably.

Below is a picture of the golden fuel I make in the plant using waste veggie oil I collect from area restaurants and the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro. Many thanks to everyone who contributes oil to our project! If you know anyone that wants their waste veggie oil collected by me to make biodiesel, just send me an email at or via phone, 910.428.9001.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Chickens, Crickets and Credits

I have not blogged in many moons. Since my last post it has grown really hot and muggy, I processed some biodiesel from poultry fat for a racing fuel company, the federal biodiesel production and blender credit still has not been renewed, and I have a new pump for the process heat system that makes noise like a bubbling brook -- can you say hammock time?

This heat has been a real killer... literally. Some friends that raise pastured broiler chickens had more than 2 dozen birds die just a couple days ago in this hot and humid June we just experienced. On the bright side, it does make the veggie oil flow nicely when I'm collecting from our partner restaurants and the zoo. You can see all of our current veggie oil partners on the STARworks Biofuels website.

Congress still has not been able to get their act together in support of the biofuels industry to renew the biodiesel production and blender credit. The House of Representatives passed a bill on to Senate, but it is stalled at this point. You can read more and find out how to take action to show your support at National Biodiesel Board's website or on Facebook. Word on the street is that nearly all of the large biodiesel producers in the US have furloughed workers or shut their doors completely until the credit is reinstated. Yes, the margins are that slim. You would think that the tragic BP oil spill might motivate our representatives in Washington to find and support alternatives which don't make such a mess.

Speaking of which, I processed some biodiesel from chicken fat for a company named BW Fuel. Based here in NC, they make a more environmentally friendly racing fuel for motorcycles. Did you know that the motorcycle racing circuit still allows the use of leaded racing fuel!?! I was amazed when the guys from BW Fuel told me that. I remember when I was a kid, and the country got off leaded fuel at the pump due to all the health issues. BW Fuel is raising awareness and being a part of the solution to better, cleaner racing fuel for motorcycle racing groups. Read more about them at their website, . Also, look at the difference between biodiesel from used fryer oil(right) and chicken fat(left). Its a nice bright, yellow color, isn't it?

Last week, Jim Gosnell, from Industrial Integration, and myself swapped out some noisy gear pumps in our process heat system for these nice, quiet Bell and Gossett inline water pumps. The only sound you can hear now is a bubbling brook as the water flows back into the tank on its return trip from the tanks in the plant. I think I could hang a hammock next to it for a siesta if it were a bit cooler. Now, listen to what the old pump sounded like in a video I made on youtube. What a difference!

Monday, March 29, 2010

We have biodiesel!

I've been remiss on my blogging the last couple months. We have made a couple batches of biodiesel now which passed testing... so the fuel is ready to burn! I'm going to step back and talk about what's happened since my last post at the end of January.

Eddie Bernard, Wet Dog Glass owner, donated an air compressor to use in the plant. We need compressed air on the venturi pump to pull a vacuum on the reactor tank to recovery any methanol not reacted. Additionally, a sparging ring is near the bottom of the wash tank to facilitate both washing and drying processes. Nick from the glass studio, Adam and Steve-O were a huge help in running the air line from the compressor's new home in the batch glass room down to biodiesel. It is great to have such knowledgeable and helpful people around to get things done well!

With the air lines run and the veggie oil I had collected, we were finally able to get rolling. David Thornton and some of his interns from Piedmont Biofuels came down to train me on the equipment and procedures. Over the last couple weeks, we went through the process of reaction and cleaning and refining of the biodiesel. We now have over 400 gallons of biodiesel! Here's a shot of the sight glass at the bottom of the wash tank showing some gorgeous golden biodiesel.

We are starting a biodiesel coop, and fuel will be available in the near future. Contact me for more information about becoming a coop member or providing used fryer oil. If you happen to know any restaurants interested in having their oil collected for making biodiesel, send them over to STARworks Biofuels!