Cold-weather soy fuel test in Fairbanks has biodiesel advocates thrilled

By Amanda Bohman

FAIRBANKS ( — Discarded restaurant frying oil, put through a process no more difficult than a high school chemistry experiment, can be used to heat buildings and fuel pickup trucks.

But there’s a problem, at least in northern climates.

The cooking-oil-turned-biodiesel gels in freezing temperatures, leaving behind a nasty sludge that builds up in filters and tanks.

An Indiana outfit says it has solved that problem and is touting its product, Permaflo Biodiesel, in Alaska.

What the Indiana Soybean Alliance is selling, starting next winter, they hope, is a refining process that alters the chemical composition of biodiesel to prevent it from gelling in temperatures down to 60 below.

If the claim is true and the price is right, the product could transform the Fairbanks Biodiesel Cooperative into a year-round operation, cooperative vice president Garrison Collette said. The 3-year-old group more or less goes dormant during Fairbanks’ long subarctic winter.

The technology also has the potential to help Fairbanks remove itself from the federal government’s air-pollution watch list, Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Jim Whitaker said. Biodiesel burns much cleaner than petroleum diesel fuel.

The soybean alliance arranged for a barge to transport some of the fuel from Seattle to Anchorage, and last week a group of scientists drove a pickup truck and a small bus borrowed from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, up the Parks Highway from Palmer using Permaflo Biodiesel.

On Saturday, the scientists drove to the Arctic Circle using Permaflo and ran a generator on the fuel.

The biodiesel demonstration was supposed to take place at Yellowstone National Park in January, but that endeavor fell through.

“At the last minute, they backed out,” Purdue University’s Bernie Tao, the lead scientist on the project, said in an interview after arriving in Fairbanks last week.

Tao said the biodiesel performed “perfectly” during the drive down the Parks Highway.

“It’s darn cold up here,” he said. “We had no problems running it. We’re burning it at 100 percent.”

The soybean alliance, made up of farmers, is looking for more uses for soybeans, a biofuel feedstock. But there are many potential feedstocks for biodiesel, including fish oil, which is being studied as a potential source of fuel in rural Alaska. These non-soybean sources of biodiesel also can be converted into the low-temperature fuel.

Collette said the biodiesel cooperative is doing its own study to learn how much waste vegetable oil is available from Fairbanks eateries to make biodiesel.

Members have looked into additives to keep the fuel from gelling in the cold, he said.

“So far we haven’t found one that will work all the way down to 40 below,” Collette said.

The cooperative produces biodiesel for its members, but Collette said the cooperative hopes to sell it someday. Using Permaflo technology would be a leap forward toward that goal.

“This is very interesting,” Collette said in an e-mail after studying the soybean alliance’s Web site,, and other Internet sources. “I think they are onto something here. I hope we can get a bit of this to sample.”

A local pumping and thawing company uses biodiesel to heat some buildings, and a mechanic used it for a time to heat his shop until it became too much work, Collette said.

“The process of turning veggie oil into biodiesel is labor intensive and expensive,” Collette said.

The biggest expense is methanol, which is shipped from Tacoma, Wash., he said.

Whitaker met with the scientists and representatives of the soybean alliance on Friday. The borough runs an air quality program after the Environmental Protection Agency deemed Fairbanks a non-attainment area, meaning the air quality falls below minimum standards.

Whitaker wants to encourage cold-weather testing in Fairbanks, he said, but he also is interested in biodiesel applications in Fairbanks as a means to improve the air quality.

“It looks very promising,” the mayor said after the meeting. “Biofuel can be used in home heating systems with no conversion costs.”

Megan Kuhn, a spokeswoman for the soybean alliance, said the organization is documenting the trip through Alaska and plans to use the information in promotional materials.

The alliance wants to sell its technology to biodiesel producers, she said. A price for the technology has not yet been set, but Kuhn said producers should be able to make Permaflo Biodiesel for a price comparable to what it costs to buy traditional diesel fuel at the pump.

“It won’t be cheaper,” the spokeswoman said.

A closed-door UAF-sponsored workshop on Permaflo Biodiesel and biofuel applications in Alaska is planned for today at Pike’s Waterfront Lodge.


[Submitted by Manhydra]

VW Races Ahead With Biodiesel

By Tony Borroz

There are two givens in the auto industry these days (well, three, actually, since the automakers are in a heap of trouble): Cars must become more environmentally friendly and the best way to make eco-friendly cars that people want is to make them fun to drive.
Racing is fun and brings all sorts of valuable technology to our everyday rides. So, when Volkswagen started a single-make race series featuring their sweet Jetta diesels, we got excited because it will make the VWs everyone else drives that much better.
Now that VW is fueling those cars with biodiesel, we’re really excited.
It is well-known in the automotive world that racing is a wellspring for innovation. If you want to make sure something Works with a capital double-u, take it to the track. If it works there, it’ll work in the much more lenient world of street cars. Hell, Ferrari is based on this simple premise.
VW knows this too. Last year, it launched a race series exclusively for the Jetta TDI, which named Green Car Journal’s Green Car of the Year. It isn’t so much the fact it’s the Jetta, or even VW, that makes this so interesting, but the fact they’re running diesels.
Diesels make a whole bunch of sense in racing. Just ask Audi or Peugeot, which thoroughly dominated Le Mans with them last year. You get better mileage, bags and bags of torque and, if you want to be clever about it, fuel made from leftover french fry grease. That’s the revelation that came to VW as it put together the 2009 TDI Cup season, which will see every car on the grid running a mixture that is 5 percent biodiesel.
OK, that’s not a huge amount, but it’s a start, and it follows Audi’s experimentation with biodiesel at Le Mans. Clark Campbell, motorsport manager for Volkswagen of America, says the move “further demonstrates the feasibility of biodiesel as an alternative fuel source for American consumers and supports the clean and green racing of the Jetta TDI Cup series.”
You can extrapolate this out to see where it leads. If it works in a Jetta on the track and can be fun, then it can work in a Jetta on the street and be fun. If it works in a Jetta on the street and is fun, then it could work in a proper sport scar and be even more fun. And VW can reliably run 5 percent bio-D now, it should be able to reliably up that percentage before long.
If someone builds a car that’s as much fun as, say, a Toyota MR2 or Mazda Miata and runs on, say, 80 percent biodiesel made from used veggie oil, then the future will be very bright indeed.


[Submitted by kabukisensei]

“First economical process” for making biodiesel fuel from algae

Chemists are reporting development of what they termed the first economical, eco-friendly process to convert algae oil into biodiesel fuel — a discovery they predict could one day lead to U.S. independence from petroleum as a fuel.

One of the problems with current methods for producing biodiesel from algae oil is the processing cost, and the New York researchers say their innovative process is at least 40 percent cheaper that of others now being used.

Supply will not be a problem: There is a limitless amount of algae growing in oceans, lakes, and rivers, throughout the world. Another benefit from the “continuously flowing fixed-bed” method to create algae biodiesel, they add, is that there is no wastewater produced to cause pollution.


[Submitted by KEVswr]

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