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!