Saturday, November 28, 2009

Bring us your turkey frying oil!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! The good fellas from Piedmont Biofuels and Industrial Integration have pretty well wrapped up equipment installation. Testing of the plumbing was a success and some veggie oil is settling in tank #1. That means you can bring us your turkey frying oil from Thanksgiving and any other festivities. Don't put it in the landfill, but rather bring it by STARworks.

We are running warm water from the heat exchanger on the glass furnace through the heat system in which temps have reached as high as 115F... and that is without insulation. Speaking of which, we are getting quotes on insulating tanks with polyurethane spray foam in the plant to enhance the efficiency and reduce our energy consumption. It is almost time to make some fuel!

Nancy and I were interviewed by the Biofuels Center of NC, and the podcast was posted on their website.

Click here to visit their podcast page and listen to our interview and many others.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Many thanks to Larry Christiana for all the work in running electrical into the biodiesel plant. We harvested 2-inch conduit and fittings from the demo areas and put them back up in the ceiling to run electricity to the old tank farm. Adam and Nick were a huge help in assisting Larry with pulling those big 3-phase wires over 240 feet across the building.

Additionally, Adam found a transformer and 2 panels we could reuse in the biodiesel area to get things running and save money on the project. We are getting very good at recycling infrastructure here at STARworks! Here is a pic of the transformer in the biodiesel area...

... and this one is the big 3-phase panel feeding into the transformer.

We have a host of tanks in the plant now as well, with only one left to be put in next week. At this point, the tanks installed are as follows, wastewater, reactor, methoxide, feedstocks, dry/wash, ion exchange column, fuel verification and finished fuel. The plumbing and electrical wiring to the pump motors and tanks remains to be done, but we are getting so close to making biodiesel -- exciting!!! Here are some pictures of our tanks.

In this pic, you can see the finished fuel, fuel verification tanks and ion exchange column.

In the foreground of the picture below is the dry/wash tank and the tanks from the earlier picture from a different angle. Also, in the bottom righthand corner is the final of the four veggie oil feedstock tanks. This is the oil's final destination before being filtered and sent into the reactor tank for conversion.

This next picture shows the reactor and methoxide mixing tanks.

The final picture is several of the veggie oil feedstock settling tanks when Piedmont Biofuels was unloading and setting them in place. Joe, David and myself are in the pic from left to right.

The good guys at Wet Dog Glass are building the glycol heat exchanger tank and control sytems for its pump motors and the auxiliary electrical heating element. I should have a good picture of that installed next week.

I've also sanded the nasty old safety yellow paint from the handrails in the entrance to the biodiesel area and started painting them. I didn't realize how bad it was to use a wire brush in removing the paint until I tried a wire wheel and sanding wheel on an angle grinder. What a beautiful thing, these tools! Anne, our friendly neighborhood gardener rescued me and the rails from my horrible paint skills! I should have a picture of that soon, too. Anne just came in and said the first coat is finished and drying as I type this. Woohoo!!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Sprinkler system installed!

We are making progress! The good people over at North Carolina Fire Protection just finished installing the sprinkler system for the biodiesel facility. Here's a snapshot of a couple sections of their handiwork.

Nick recently fired up the refurbished glass furnace in the room next door, which houses STARworks Glass. While he was working on the furnace during its annual maintenance period, he added a flange on the stack of the furnace. Check out the groovy stainless steel welding he did in the pic below.

It might be a little difficult to see the flange at the top of the furnace's exhaust stack in the picture, but this will facilitate the attachment of a heat exchanger to the furnace. We are really excited about this part of the project because it will make our energy utilization in the biodiesel production significantly less than most facilities of this size. We will use the waste energy from the glass furnace, which runs year-round, to heat a water/glycol mix that will be stored in an insulated tank, then distributed to our feedstock and reactor tanks. Otherwise, we would probably be using electric heaters to aid in the settling of the veg oil and heating the reactor tank to the proper temp for optimal reaction. I will be posting more pictures as the process heat system development progresses.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Fringe Production Model?

I just saw this article in Biodiesel Magazine regarding biodiesel project developments around the US. You can read it here,

I was interested to read that using waste vegetable oil (WVO) as a feedstock is apparently more of a fringe practice in the industry. I imagine the variability in cost and free fatty acids (FFA) content is difficult in really large scale plants, but we don't fit that bill... thankfully. As I've indicated in the past, we plan to harvest WVO from facilities in the region and produce neat biodiesel to sell in our area. It is our opinion that this production model is more sustainable than attempting to build a multi-million gallon per year facility, trucking in massive quantities of feedstocks from outside of our region. Just like food, it doesn't make much sense to us, investing gobs of BTU's into hauling fuel and feedstocks around the country.

Like anything else worth doing, developing a sustainable biodiesel business takes considerable time and effort. It would be awesome if restaurants in the Central Park region of North Carolina were knocking down my door to give me their WVO, and the phone was ringing off the hook with calls from folks wanting to put biodiesel in their trucks, tractors and heating oil furnaces. Unfortunately, that isn't the case, as many people are unaware of biodiesel as a fuel for transportation and heating. Because of this, awareness and education is a big part of building and developing this business. We are working on that here in Star, reaching out to the community to raise awareness of biodiesel as a renewable fuel that can be produced here at STARworks in our old sock mill.

I heard some good news from our friends over in Pittsboro the other day. Piedmont Biofuels is making good progress on our production equipment. After emptying the building of three 6400 gallon HDPE tanks, we will soon be filling it back up with some snazzy stainless steel tanks for biodiesel production. In the picture below you can see the big tank for finished fuel that remains in the building just inside the garage door on the lefthand side.

Also remaining and near the control area of the facility is our wastewater tank which used to have peroxide in it. Fortunately, I didn't have to move that one!

The reactor tank and methoxide mixing tank will go in the control area just in front of the wastewater tank(it is the area to the right of the tank in the picture above). We will be building a wall around that area for safety reasons. This is where methanol will be stored, and it is the most dangerous aspect in the production of biodiesel. It sounds strange, but biodiesel is classified as a less hazardous substance than methanol, due to the nature of the transesterification process converting vegetable oils into biodiesel. Essentially methanol replaces the existing alcohol in veggie oil, gylcerin(or glycerol) in this chemical reaction. Due to the low level of danger of biodiesel(Darryl Hannah has even chugged some biodiesel to show how nontoxic it is), one can carry around significantly more around than the law allows for petrodiesel, which is a maximum of approximately 120 gallons. I could ramble on about other advantages of biodiesel production and the fuel's benefits, but its about time to close up shop on the start of this Labor Day weekend. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Lots of space in the plant building

This week, with a sizable amount of teamwork, we extracted the other two 6400 gallon tanks from the tank farm building to make room for the biodiesel equipment from Piedmont Biofuels. It is amazing what you can accomplish with a forklift and some folks with ingenuity. Many thanks to Adam, Nick and Takuro for all the guidance and help in the process of extracting the tanks. Here are some pictures from the process.
This was the first tank we removed this week and placed it in front of an old guard house.

... and here you can see the spot it occupied for many years. In its place will be some catwalk and equipment for "finishing" the biodiesel fuel. There is a lot of space in there now!

Today, we removed another tank to make room for the used fryer oil containers. You can see below some pictures during that extraction. Here is the tank being pulled through the 12x12 door. Nick manages STARworks Glass Studio and maneuvered the forklift and tank. Takuro and Adam helped out considerably in the process, but I didn't get a chance to catch a picture of them as we were prepping the tank and doing some fluid extraction earlier in the day.

I should have some pictures of equipment installation in a couple weeks. Nancy Gottovi, Central Park NC's Executive Director, and I spoke with Shane Reese at the Biofuels Center of NC today for a podcast on our project. BCNC provided significant funding for our project and many others around the state, working towards the goal of replacing 10% of the liquid fuels we purchase in this state with biofuels made here in North Carolina by 2017. We will be posting a link to the interview in a couple weeks here and on our website at .

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Old tanks, a quartet of new bikes and a really big deck!

As you can tell from the title, there has been a good bit of activity at STARworks since I last posted. Let's start with the tanks in the biofuels area.

So, the old tank farm of the sock mill is where we are going to make biodiesel in the near future. Before Piedmont Biofuels can install the production infrastructure, we have to pull out three 6400 gallon plastic tanks. They are 10 feet in diameter and at least as tall. Check the picture above to better illustrate.

We were going to hire someone to remove the tanks by crane, removing the roof of the building, but that was going to cost a pretty penny. The tanks aren't worth much money now, so I decided to try removing them with our Baker forklift. After much gnashing of teeth, wriggling around and pulling on a tank, we finally got one out. Here's the spot where it used to exist in the building.

Many thanks to my Dad, Bill Moore, Santiago and Takuro from next door in ceramics for all the help in getting the tank out and onto Bill's trailer. I have two more tanks to remove, but I hope they will be easier now that we've done it once and have more room in the space .

Here are the other tanks that need to be removed, actually the ones on the left and right. The tank in the center with the ladder against it will be cleaned and modified to hold finished fuel and will have a fuel pump and meter installed. Let's walk outside biodiesel and see what is happening with the deck around the corner.

Lee Hudson, a local contractor that has helped us out many times in the past with other construction projects, agreed to take on this most recent task: to build a series of ramps and decks to serve as an entrance into the Nick's glass studio. The studio is where students from area community colleges, local artists and anyone generally interested in learning about blowing glass come to learn from Nick and others. Here's what the back of the building looked like before Lee and his crews went to work.

In the past several weeks they have been getting various aspects of the decks and ramps completed, and now its almost done! The "country red" metal roofing arrived from Triad Metals' Asheboro warehouse yesterday afternoon and should be installed soon.

This is how the deck project looks as of today.

We anticipate that the deck will be used quite a bit starting in the near future. Nick will have some classes in glass blowing offered through Montgomery Community College in the fall. Additionally, there will be an open house in the fall. Check Nick's website here for more information.

UPDATE! The roof on the deck is finished... and it looks great! Here are a couple of pics I snapped a little bit ago. Someone remarked that the series of ramps reminded him of the line for an amusment park ride. Well, we do have a lot of fun here in Star.

Finally, we were all excited to get some new bikes from Middle Ring Cycles over in Albemarle. Check out the pictures below as we try out the bicycles at STARworks.

Brian's truck and trailer with one of the new bikes next to it.

The bikes in the front entrance area.

Here are some action shots of folks riding around the trail.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Grease Run at Piedmont Biofuels

First, you might ask, "what the heck is a grease run!?!" Its definitely not a variation on that slip-n-slide you had when you were a kid... ick! It is merely shorthand for waste vegetable oil feedstock collections in the sustainable biodiesel business. Doesn't grease run sound more fun? It is a dirty job, collecting wvo, but its for a great cause -- making biodiesel out of the waste oil local restaurants and other cooking facilities need to dispose anyway.

We are partnered with Piedmont Biofuels in the construction of our biodiesel facility here at STARworks. They asked if I wanted to go on a celebrity grease run with Moya and Kate. As Lyle Estill indicated, they are rock stars, or perhaps a binary star system of grease collections at Piedmont. In a recent energy blog entry, Lyle discussed the inaugural celebrity grease run with his wife, Tami.

After waking at 430 yesterday morning to feed my laying hens and all the cats and dogs, I tooled over to Pittsboro to get some education. I met Moya and Kate at Lorax Lane to begin the grease run. I hopped into their pump truck, affectionately named Norma Jean, which was built by Bill Abernethy over in Vale, NC. It is a quite a system they have worked out, with routes planned monthly for picking up wvo from their region. Moya and Kate also have Earl, their GPS system, to help(sometimes) in navigating around the Triangle. We trekked all over Durham, Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Pittsboro collecting grease from so many places throughout the day. One place, Dale's Indian Cuisine, kindly provided us with some very tasty mango lassies. Thank you so much Dale!!! It was quite a tasty treat... especially on a hot day pumping grease.

We returned to Piedmont Biofuels with a loaded tank of waste veggie oil just in time for Kate to go to class in the Biofuels program at CCCC. It was a very educational day riding with Moya and Kate. They patiently educated me regarding the finer points of grease collection for making sustainable biodiesel: pallets, stickers, barrels, clean collection areas, and so much more. It was obvious they knew what they were doing, just looking at our clothes at the end of the day. I was covered in spots literally from head to toe in grease stains, not realizing how best to hold the grease collection hose and stinger. They weren't quite so filthy. I wish I had a camera to take some before and after pics as proof. Maybe next time. Speaking of which, I guess I didn't do too poorly, because Moya and Kate said I could come back any time I wanted to go on another grease run. I highly recommend it! I hope everyone has a groovy holiday weekend.

Monday, June 15, 2009


So, I was told I forgot to introduce myself. Being new to the author side of the blogosphere, it kinda slipped my mind ;) Although, I was born in Iowa, I've grown up here in the Central Park region of North Carolina, living mostly in Stanly county until several years ago, when I moved into the Uwharries in Montgomery county. The ancient mountains(oldest on the east coast) and lakes in this area I've enjoyed for some time, being a lover of the outdoors.

It is because of a desire to preserve and enhance my surroundings that I joined the team at STARworks, to make sustainable biodiesel from waste veggie oil from local sources. I learned about biodiesel several years ago from a friend, Mark Wienand, who had a VW Jetta TDI running on SVO(straight veggie oil) with a GreaseCar conversion kit. I wanted to learn even more, so I took a biofuels class over in Pittsboro led by Rachel and Leif, folks now at Piedmont Biofuels.

All that information percolated in my mind as I continued a career in IT, working in small liberal arts colleges, Pfeiffer and St Andrews, until I read an article about a biodiesel project in Star, which was over a river and through the woods from home -- perfect! The project is funded by a grant from the Biofuels Center of North Carolina and the equipment is being built by the folks over at Piedmont Biofuels. We will be making biodiesel soon, early August if everything goes as planned. Speaking of plans, I need to go work with a plumber and replumb some water lines in the plant and provide a few spigots to our friendly neighborhood gardener, Anne.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Three R's

Greetings! Here at STARworks, we are Reusing a plant that was shut down several years ago. One of the many projects here is the biofuels plant, surrounded by our garden and glass and ceramics studios. We are also neighbors with Wet Dog Glass and Comfort South. The biofuels facility will be located in the old tank farm which housed big tanks of dyes and other things used to make socks here many moons ago. Here you can see a pic of the building where we will be making biodiesel in a couple months.

We will be Reducing our energy footprint here by installing a newer boiler which will run more efficiently than the current unit. This boiler will be able to run on a blend of biodiesel created in our plant to heat office and workspace throughout the plant.

At the biofuels plant we plan to Recycle waste veggie oil as our feedstock for making biodiesel. Additionally, we will be working with the glass and ceramics folks to look at using the waste glycerine for its fuel and clay conditioning abilities.