Biodiesel: Brew Your Own

County Converts Cooking Oil to Power

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Posted: Wednesday, January 12, 2011 12:43 pm

Alachua County, Florida, which includes the city of Gainesville, uses recycled cooking oil to power its off-road vehicles, and now it plans to generate electric power with the same "homemade" fuel.

The county has long had a robust solid waste and recycling program. It accepts for drop off materials from pharmaceuticals to batteries, and now, inspired by a local childrens' science project, the county is accepting used cooking oil.

Kurt Seaburg is the county's hazardous waste coordinator. He explained that when the agency's director heard about the kids' demonstration project using cooking oil to power a lawn tractor, he thought it would be right in line with the sorts of things the county was already doing to reduce its own carbon footprint. So the search was on to find a way to turn the cooking oil they were already collecting into biodiesel fuel. Seaburg explained they selected a product called BioPro 190, manufactured by Springboard Biodiesel, based in Chico, Calif.

Seaburg said the machine they selected is simple to use and doesn't require too much hands-on work. "It is what they say it is - an automated system that is suiting our needs quite well," Seaburg said. They are able to make 50 gallons of biodiesel in a 48-hour period. They use a B-5 blend for the county's off-road vehicles, such as front end loaders.

The county is applying for an EPA grant to conduct an outreach program, educating residents about how the cooking oil they recycle is being used. Additionally, they are preparing to purchase a 20-kilowatt generator that would power their 8500-square foot facility during daytime hours. The generator would run on 100 percent biodiesel, which Seaburg said is a little bit of a hurdle. That's because no generators made in the U.S. are currently warranteed to run on pure biodiesel, although that isn't the case in other countries.

Seaburg figures they'll likely void the generator's warrantee the minute they switch it on. He said they've run ASTM tests on their biodiesel fuel already, and feel confident the quality of what they are making will work fine in their generator. That'll enable them to be off the grid during the day, and use biodiesel as both a transportation fuel and as a way to generate electrical power.

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