Farmers cultivate biodiesel know-how

Observer-Reporter | July 12, 2009

As reported by Scott Beveridge, in the Observer-Reporter  July 12, 2009:

” AVELLA – Some Pennsylvania farmers traded their farming implements today for goggles and chemistry tools to learn how to make biodiesel fuel for their tractors.

Nearly 20 earth-friendly farmers are conducting the fuel experiments at Weatherbury Farm in Avella, where Dale and Marcy Tudor raise organic, grass-fed beef cattle and sheep.

‘ We’re turning into modern-day hippies,’ Dale Tudor said while a biodiesel processing company from Pittsboro, N.C., conducted the seminar on his 100-acre farm along Sugar Run Road.

More farmers are realizing the importance of sustainable business practices that help to make them money and protect the environment, said Rachel Schaal, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Association for Sustaining Agriculture, a nonprofit group that sponsored the event. ‘ It’s already caught on with small-scale farms, ‘ Schaal said.

Marcy Tudor said she noticed in the association’s brochure of upcoming events that it planned to conduct a biodiesel course, but hadn’t selected its location.

I said, ‘Good, you can use our farm then, ‘ said Tudor, who also runs a bed and breakfast where city folk come to work the farm and stay overnight in a converted barn with modern conveniences.

It would cost as much as $12,000 to purchase a sophisticated set-up to turn oil seeds or waste vegetable oil into the fuel, said her son, Nigel, who will be in charge of making biodiesel fuel at Weatherbury.

People can also spend as little as $200 to convert a hot water tank into a biodiesel processor, said Nigel Tudor, who likely will take that route.

He plans to cultivate in 2011 such as crops as sunflowers, canola or soybean, which produce oil-based seeds that can be crushed for the process. The goal is to make fuel for the farm tractors and organic vegetable oil to sell at the farm, he said.

The leftover seeds then can be used for livestock feed, said Kate Fournel, an intern at Piedmont Biofuels of Pittsboro, who had the farmers use waste vegetable oil to make small amounts of the fuel.

‘It’s cleaner burning, has reduced emissions and is carbon neutral, ‘ Fournel said.

The process involves adding methanol and potassium hydroxide to the waste oil to swap out the glycerin and turn it into fuel.

‘ You can use virgin seed oil, chicken fat or lard,’ she said.

It’s becoming more difficult and costlier to find waste vegetable oil because the demand for it has increased, she said.

Piedmont spent eight hours at Weatherbury processing 25 gallons of fuel from start to finish.

‘ It’s interesting,’ Dale Tudor said. ‘ The whole idea is to do energy on a home-brewed scale, rather than bring it halfway around the world from Saudi Arabia.’ ”