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By Tim Leeds 

Northern works for closed loop biodiesel production

 

January 15, 2011



Northern works for closed loop biodiesel production

Tim Leeds

A program at Montana State University-Northern is set to sell cooking oil to local restaurants. After the restaurants use the oil for cooking, it will be converted into fuel and will be given back to farmers who raised the oilseed so they can raise more crops.

"We have been engaged in many projects, but this is one I really applaud, " said Jessica Windy Boy, director of the Bioenergy Innovation and Testing Center at Montana State University-Northern. "It really does show the value of agriculture and fuel and the economy. "

The university is waiting for word on an application for a grant through the U. S. Department of Agriculture to start the process.

Taylor Lyon, research associate at Northern's center, said a simpler version of the proposed project is being done now — the research center is taking canola cooking oil after it is used by the university food service and processing it into biodiesel. The local bus system, North Central Montana Transit, started using some of that biodiesel in two of its buses Monday.

Windy Boy said that started after the food service started using 100 percent canola oil, which is much healthier for the students than the partially hydrogenated vegetable oil they had been using.

The test project will expand on that. Five farmers from the region will raise canola or safflower, which the university will purchase from the farmers. After pressing the oil from the seeds, the university then will sell the oil to two local restaurants and the food service, at market rates the restaurants already are paying.

Once the oil is used, the restaurants will return it to the university, where it will be processed into biodiesel and returned to the farmers.

"It really is kind of a demonstration of a closed-loop model, " Windy Boy said, "We'll be growing it, using it and recycling it all locally. "

****Demonstration project

The project will be a test to some degree, to see if the idea will work for local producers.

Of the five farmers involved three already raise oilseed. Windy Boy said part of the teamwork will be sharing knowledge and experience.

"The nice thing about working on a grant like this is we will be helping each other, " Windy Boy said.

The project also will benefit the restaurants, providing high-quality, locally grown cooking oils. Lyon said the oil will be near virgin-quality, with less processing than most commercially available cooking oils.

It also will reduce the cost of producing the biodiesel. The cost of production, factoring in the sale of the oil to the restaurants, should drop from $5 to $6 a gallon to about a buck-and-a-half to two dollars, he said.

Lyon said the main goal of the project is to see if it can work for local agricultural producers. The farmers in the area already know they can raise wheat or other grains and know that that works. This could show them a way to raise oilseeds, give a guaranteed market for the product and reduce their fuel costs at the same time.

Part of the purpose of the project is to combat the food-versus-fuel argument, Lyon added. One of the arguments against raising crops to be used for fuel if it cuts back the production of fuel.

Lyon said the closed-loop model will allow farmers to use oilseeds as a rotational crop while still raising grains and other food, while giving them fuel to use in raising that food.

He added if the model being tested does not work as well as expected, it will help design new formats.

"If it doesn't work, it will give us a clear picture of where to go, " he said, adding that it could give information that could be used to push for legislation to support such projects in the state and across the nation.

****Farming on vegetable oil

Bob Quinn, who operates an organic farm near Big Sandy, will be working on Northern's project, although he already has been working on his own.

"I'm kind of doing it experimentally, " he said this morning.

Quinn said he modified one of his tractors to run on straight oil he can raise on his farm — a starting system runs the vehicle on diesel until it is ready to run on the vegetable oil.

"When it gets to the right temperature, it automatically switches to safflower oil, " he said.

His plan from the start has been to sell the oil he raises to restaurants, then pick it up once it is used to run his tractor.

"I actually sell it twice, once to the restaurants and once to myself, to my farm, " he said.

Quinn added that the savings will vary, depending on the cost to ship and pick the oil back up, although it should help his operation, with the high cost of diesel. It will stabilize the price of fuel and always be available for his use, he said.

This will be the first year he has raised enough of the organic safflower oil to run the tractor for the entire season, although he said he tested it last year. Quinn ran about 100 gallons of the oil through the vehicle.

He said he now is in the process of creating his own food-grade oil press to convert the safflower seeds to oil, which he expects to be in operation by this spring.

Quinn said he fully supports the project at Northern, and other operations producing local fuel like Earl Fisher Biofuels in Chester.

The best model would be local production for local use, he added. The economics would not work as well to try to ship the fuel out of the area.

"I prefer to see the fuel production in the hands of the local farmers. If we can figure out all the bugs to make it work, we can have small co-ops (producing fuel for local use), " Quinn said. "We could have presses in every community. "

A program at Montana State University-Northern is set to sell cooking oil to local restaurants. After the restaurants use the oil for cooking, it will be converted into fuel and will be given back to farmers who raised the oilseed so they can raise more crops.

"We have been engaged in many projects, but this is one I really applaud, " said Jessica Windy Boy, director of the Bioenergy Innovation and Testing Center at Montana State University-Northern. "It really does show the value of agriculture and fuel and the economy. "

The university is waiting for word on an application for a grant through the U. S. Department of Agriculture to start the process.

Taylor Lyon, research associate at Northern's center, said a simpler version of the proposed project is being done now — the research center is taking canola cooking oil after it is used by the university food service and processing it into biodiesel. The local bus system, North Central Montana Transit, started using some of that biodiesel in two of its buses Monday.

Windy Boy said that started after the food service started using 100 percent canola oil, which is much healthier for the students than the partially hydrogenated vegetable oil they had been using.

The test project will expand on that. Five farmers from the region will raise canola or safflower, which the university will purchase from the farmers. After pressing the oil from the seeds, the university then will sell the oil to two local restaurants and the food service, at market rates the restaurants already are paying.

Once the oil is used, the restaurants will return it to the university, where it will be processed into biodiesel and returned to the farmers.

"It really is kind of a demonstration of a closed-loop model, " Windy Boy said, "We'll be growing it, using it and recycling it all locally. "

Demonstration project

The project will be a test to some degree, to see if the idea will work for local producers.

Of the five farmers involved three already raise oilseed. Windy Boy said part of the teamwork will be sharing knowledge and experience.

"The nice thing about working on a grant like this is we will be helping each other, " Windy Boy said.

The project also will benefit the restaurants, providing high-quality, locally grown cooking oils. Lyon said the oil will be near virgin-quality, with less processing than most commercially available cooking oils.

It also will reduce the cost of producing the biodiesel. The cost of production, factoring in the sale of the oil to the restaurants, should drop from $5 to $6 a gallon to about a buck-and-a-half to two dollars, he said.

Lyon said the main goal of the project is to see if it can work for local agricultural producers. The farmers in the area already know they can raise wheat or other grains and know that that works. This could show them a way to raise oilseeds, give a guaranteed market for the product and reduce their fuel costs at the same time.

Part of the purpose of the project is to combat the food-versus-fuel argument, Lyon added. One of the arguments against raising crops to be used for fuel if it cuts back the production of fuel.

Lyon said the closed-loop model will allow farmers to use oilseeds as a rotational crop while still raising grains and other food, while giving them fuel to use in raising that food.

He added if the model being tested does not work as well as expected, it will help design new formats.

"If it doesn't work, it will give us a clear picture of where to go, " he said, adding that it could give information that could be used to push for legislation to support such projects in the state and across the nation.

Farming on vegetable oil

Bob Quinn, who operates an organic farm near Big Sandy, will be working on Northern's project, although he already has been working on his own.

"I'm kind of doing it experimentally, " he said this morning.

Quinn said he modified one of his tractors to run on straight oil he can raise on his farm — a starting system runs the vehicle on diesel until it is ready to run on the vegetable oil.

"When it gets to the right temperature, it automatically switches to safflower oil, " he said.

His plan from the start has been to sell the oil he raises to restaurants, then pick it up once it is used to run his tractor.

"I actually sell it twice, once to the restaurants and once to myself, to my farm, " he said.

Quinn added that the savings will vary, depending on the cost to ship and pick the oil back up, although it should help his operation, with the high cost of diesel. It will stabilize the price of fuel and always be available for his use, he said.

This will be the first year he has raised enough of the organic safflower oil to run the tractor for the entire season, although he said he tested it last year. Quinn ran about 100 gallons of the oil through the vehicle.

He said he now is in the process of creating his own food-grade oil press to convert the safflower seeds to oil, which he expects to be in operation by this spring.

Quinn said he fully supports the project at Northern, and other operations producing local fuel like Earl Fisher Biofuels in Chester.

The best model would be local production for local use, he added. The economics would not work as well to try to ship the fuel out of the area.

"I prefer to see the fuel production in the hands of the local farmers. If we can figure out all the bugs to make it work, we can have small co-ops (producing fuel for local use), " Quinn said. "We could have presses in every community. "


On the Web:

The MSU-Northern Bio-Energy Center

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