Biofuel Co-op Eager to Provide Alternative Fuel in Pikes Peak Region
Members of Colorado Springs Biofuel Co-op, a group that formed in 2013 to increase public awareness and availability of homegrown organic fuels, are putting the final touches on a processor they've built to produce biodiesel fuel from used restaurant vegetable oil.
Steve Moll, owner of Clean Air Lawn Care in Colorado Springs, said he can't wait.
"The cleaner the fuel we can run, the better it is for everybody," he said.
Moll's company specializes in all things green. He uses lawnmowers, trimmers and blowers powered by batteries recharged with solar energy and organic fertilizers. He also runs a larger diesel-powered tractor mower for commercial accounts on a mixture of 20 percent processed oil and 80 percent diesel purchased from a local commercial vendor.
But he wants to go 100 percent biodiesel, which is what the co-op's processor will yield.
"Having biodiesel in our fleet keeps in line with our philosophies," Moll said. "Pollution-free lawn care is the future, and biodiesel is even cleaner than the propane alternatives that are on the market for vehicles and lawn equipment."
Biodiesel is made through a chemical process called transesterification, which involves separating the glycerin from vegetable oil. One byproduct of the process is methyl esters, the chemical name for biodiesel. Biodiesel can be used in diesel-powered cars, trucks and equipment, such as Moll's tractor mower.
Meral Sarper, a Pueblo resident who graduated last May from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs with an engineering degree, built the processor for the co-op.
Free plans are available online to build the Appleseed Biodiesel Processor, she said, or kits can be purchased from a company called Utah Biodiesel Supply.
The base of the system is an 80-gallon water heater, which heats the vegetable oil. A few chemicals – methanol (found in HEET, an additive that keeps gas lines from freezing) and sodium hydroxide (lye) – get added to cause a reaction and create the end product.
Biodiesel burns cleaner than traditional diesel because of the lack of sulfur.
Biodiesel also is a renewable energy, originating from a plant, compared with diesel that's made from crude oil, a fossil fuel.
Raw vegetable oil is not a legal motor fuel; processing is needed to properly operate diesel-powered vehicles and equipment and not harm the engine and other components.
"We see it as a need," Sarper said. "There's no point in throwing away waste oil when you can make fuel out of it."
The co-op is a project of the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission, which is involved with a variety of issues, including sustainability.
Sarper researched the concept while she was an intern for the organization, and it's taken several years to raise money and get to the point of brewing batches of biodiesel.
For decades, individuals here and there have made their own biodiesel, but locally, there hasn't been a network before.
"We thought we could be that central meeting place for all people interested in creating a new realm of energy," Sarper said.
The system will yield 55 gallons of biodiesel at a time. It takes about 48 hours for one batch to brew.
A glitch in the siphoning element held up the inaugural trial batch recently, but it is being fixed.
The equipment is at the home of a member. Sarper said the group is looking for a safe space with ventilation to headquarter the operation.
A price hasn't been set for the produced biodiesel.
"We need to see how it works out," said Sarper, who works as a mechanical engineer at the Transportation Technology Center in Pueblo, a test facility of the American Association of Railroads.
But the goal is to sell the biodiesel for less than the going retail rate of diesel fuel, she said.
Steve Saint, associate director of the Justice and Peace Commission, said a permit is not needed to produce biodiesel since it is considered an oil.
Demand has been high, Saint said, with members chipping in money to help get the co-op off the ground. A crowdfunding account is set up online at GoFundMe.com/coloradospringsbiofuel.
"We're not going to Saudi Arabia or even Greeley – we can use waste oil right from here to make our own fuel," said Saint, who plans to run the homemade biodiesel in his Volkswagen Jetta.