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On January 12-14, 2016, the Maine Agricultural Trades Show took place at the Augusta Civic Center. In a Wednesday session, Jennifer Brennan of the Greater Portland Council of Governments (or GPCOG) introduced Alex Pine, Director of Outreach and Technology at Maine Standard Biofuels (or MSB) to speak about using biodiesel on the farm. Green Energy Maine was there and brings you this report.
GPCOG works under a USDA grant to provide technical assistance for farmers and agricultural producers. MSB has been in business since 2008 and is operating Maine’s only ASTM 6751 standard biodiesel manufacturing plant and Maine’s only commercial grease collector. Theirs is a “zero-waste”, full-circle product. In fact, the biodiesel production process has a by-product, which is made into another product called, “Wicked Strong Soap”.
Biodiesel is biologically-based diesel fuel. You can run it in any engine that burns diesel. It can be made from any fat, such as vegetable oil, but it is a chemically different product. It is 80% less carbon intensive than petroleum-based diesel and is a higher performance fuel that has lower emissions. The biofuel burns much cleaner than does conventional diesel. Biodiesel actually acts as a solvent that will loosen up any deposits in a burner. This is why many people start by burning a blend of biodiesel and #2, such as B20 (which is 20% biodiesel).
There are higher production standards for biodiesel than for conventional diesel. Many years ago, some “bad” biodiesel was brought into the state and so biodiesel got a bad reputation in Maine. This was before MSB began making fuel to ASTM standards. Today, Oakhurst Dairy’s trucks run on biodiesel, as do the Downeast Duck tourist boats.
McDougal Orchards in Springvale uses biodiesel for their farm trucks and all feedback has been good. MSB distributes their biodiesel as far north as Waterville. If you have a small farm and want to give biodiesel a try, start by bringing some small fuel cans or fill 55-gallon barrels at MSB in Portland to use in your equipment. If your farm is south of Waterville, you could also have a tank put on the farm and have the fuel delivered.
There is Rural Energy for America Program (or REAP) funding available to help farms and small rural businesses to convert to biodiesel.
COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT BIODIESEL
Biodiesel messes up equipment. (Actually, if you do not mix it with other fuels such as vegetable oil or use substandard product, equipment is not harmed.)
It’s just vegetable oil. (NOT).
It’s bad for new or old engines. (Actually, it has high lubricity, which is great for older engines. The ASTM standard calls for low sulfur diesel and this causes less engine wear. Most new engines are flex-fuel adaptable. It is an oxygenated fuel that makes less soot buildup in an engine.)
Biodiesel is mostly petroleum. (Actually, it comes in various blends such as B5, B20, B50 or B99.99%. In cold weather, 100% biodiesel can freeze. Most people can use B20 year-round in cars in Maine.
It costs more. (Actually, MSB sells its fuels at or below market prices.)
Biodiesel is bad for the environment. (Actually, it is a quality fuel made in the USA, under strict regulations.)
Pine then outlined 5 steps people can take toward the transition to biodiesel from conventional diesel:
1) Change minds, not parts;
2) Insure compatibility: check that fuel lines are clear so that loosened deposits do not clog filters;
3) Insure fuel quality: demand a consistent, ASTM product;
4) Maintain your equipment
5) Manage fuel supply and use.
Q: Do you have a hard time meeting demand?
Pine: In winter, it is sometimes tighter because grease collection points are seasonal.
Q: Do you buy used oils from fried foods plants in Aroostook County?
Pine: That oil is mostly being burned locally and we’d love to get some sometime.
Q: Waste cooking oil is in limited supply; do you foresee using virgin vegetable oils?
Pine: The average person in the US generates 1 gallon per year of waste cooking oil. You can get biodiesel that is made from virgin crops. We tried making it from sunflower oil in the past and it was not that successful. We have considered bringing in virgin oils, renting them to restaurants and then bringing it back as waste oil to produce biodiesel from it. A process called degumming is needed to make the biofuel from virgin oils and most producers use hexane to do this. MSB prefers to avoid using this chemical.
Q: What part of the ASTM specs are hardest to meet?
Pine: We have to add water to the product and then reduce both water and sediment content. Alcohol and methanol levels are also hard to regulate; this requires heat and vacuum. It is like operating a still.
Q: What do you suggest if we want to generate most of our energy on farms?
Pine: Meet as much of your needs as possible with solar and then keep a biodiesel generator for backup.
Q: Is the use of methane from manure practical?
Pine: There is a machine called Bio-Pro 190 that costs $20,000 and produces spec fuel. With other fuel prices low, this is not so cost effective. Waste is not just methane but also hydrogen sulphide and other chemicals that must be removed from the fuel.
For further information, contact Maine Standard Biofuels.
Photo of Alex Pine by Kay Mann.