Friday, December 18, 2009

Biodiesel may be gone, sooner than you think...

The tax credit for biodiesel / petroleum diesel blends (1¢ for each percent biodiesel, per gallon) is set to expire Dec 31, 2009 unless extended by Congress. Locally, Dan Rees of AZ Biodiesel is looking for a community response to motivate Congress to extend the 'blenders credit' for another year, which allows AZ Biodiesel and other vendors to price biodiesel at (or below!) petroleum diesel prices.

Without the blenders credit -- which on the 99.9% biodiesel that AZ Biodiesel sells is effectively $1/gallon -- biodiesel prices will rise to levels significantly higher than petrol diesel. The end result: there may not be enough demand for biodiesel to keep it available here in the Valley.

Congress has less than two weeks to extend the blenders credit: if they don't, even a retroactive extension may not be enough to keep pioneers like Dan in business.

Time to make some noise!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Your turkey grease can clean our air and save taxpayer money

Desert Biofuels Initiative applauds the grease recycling efforts in the Valley (by the Town of Gilbert and AZ Biodiesel, and by the Dynamite Biofuels Co-op) and in Tucson.

At DBI we're not fans of the "Big Agriculture" model of growing corn or soy for conversion to ethanol or biodiesel. This model can can provide some air quality benefits, but otherwise has some serious flaws (e.g. excessive fertilizer runoff, displacing food crops). We're excited about the future potential of next-generation biofuels feedstocks (inputs), such as algae. However, there is another feedstock option that is widely available right now but that is currently being significantly underused as a biofuel input: so-called "yellow grease" or "WVO" -- waste vegetable oil and other similar waste grease, such as from restaurant deep fryers. WVO can be converted into clean-burning biodiesel (that can run in any diesel engine) easily and cheaply.

Did you know that:
  • There are about 10 million gallons of WVO produced annually in the Phoenix metropolitan area, but most of this currently is used as animal feed or simply "disappears" -- often down the drain.
  • If all of the WVO in the region were turned into biofuel that was used locally in place of petroleum diesel, this would take 100,000 tons of CO2 out of Valley air each year -- roughly the equivalent of taking 20,000 cars off the road.
  • We would also reduce the significant taxpayer expense associated with municipalities addressing the hundreds of grease-caused sewer blockages and overflows that occur in the Valley every year.
This Thanksgiving, we all have the opportunity to make a small contribution towards cleaner air and a cleaner wastewater infrastructure: we can recycle our turkey grease and other used cooking oils as biofuel. There are two WVO collection efforts here in the Valley: one in Gilbert, the other in Cave Creek. There is also a notable collection effort in Tucson.

Town of Gilbert and AZ Biodiesel

The Town of Gilbert continues to impress with their ability to demonstrate results when it comes to clean energy. For Thanksgiving they have partnered with Gilbert-based AZ Biodiesel and are collecting household grease at eight of the nine Gilbert fire stations. AZ Biodiesel will convert the grease to fuel, all of which will be used locally -- displacing petroleum diesel and reducing air pollution. Click here for details and a map to the various collection points. We applaud Gilbert's leadership in this area, and deeply appreciate AZ Biodiesel's commitment to the project and to sustainable biofuels in Arizona more generally.

Dynamite Biofuels Co-op.

The Dynamite Biofuels Co-op, a membership-driven grassroots biofuels effort based in Cave Creek, is also providing a grease recycling opportunity. The Co-op will have a grease collection bin at Big Earl's Greasy Eats restaurant, 6135 E. Cave Creek Rd. in Cave Creek. The team at the Co-op are longtime leaders in the Valley on biofuels issues, and we applaud their efforts to make this recycling opportunity available to the community. Check their website for additional details.

[Note: we understand that the Co-op would be willing to provide collection bins and pick up services at other locations in the Valley as well. Restaurant owners or others, please let them know if you would like to participate.]


To their great credit, the Tucson Clean Cities Coalition, Pima County Regional Wastewater Reclamation Department, and Grecycle have put on a day-after-Thanksgiving grease drive for several years. This year the drive will run from 9am - 1pm at three locations in Tucson: O'Reilly Chevrolet (6160 E. Broadway), the Pima County Industrial Wastewater Control plant (5025 W. Ina Rd.) and the City of Tucson Water Plan #2 (1102 W. Irvington Rd.). The Clean Cities website will have more detail.

So: this Thanksgiving RECYCLE YOUR GREASE! And while you're doing so, consider the opportunity for cleaner air and wastewater treatment cost savings that we're missing by under- utilizing this local resource as a biofuel feedstock.

[To our friends in the press: we'd love for you to tell this story! Here are some contacts if you'd like more info:

Beth Lucas, Town of Gilbert, (480) 503-6766,
Dan Rees, AZ Biodiesel, contact info
Gene Leach or Jay Nance, Dynamite Biofuels, contact info
Kathryn Van Kirk, Tucson Clean Cities, (520) 792-1093,
Eric Johnson, Desert Biofuels Initiative, (602) 996-9682,]

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

AZ Biofuels Grant Program: A Missed Opportunity

If you had nearly $1 million to spend on advancing biofuels in Arizona, what would you do?

Here's my list:
  • Fund a program to incentivize restaurants to convert their waste vegetable oil into biodiesel. There are over 10 million gallons of WVO produced annually in the Phoenix area alone. The vast majority of this WVO goes into animal feed or is "missing" (presumably frequently going into the sewer system). Converting this WVO to biodiesel would have dramatic air quality and other benefits -- and would likely reduce the substantial costs to taxpayers associated with the hundreds of annual grease-caused sewer blockages in AZ. Prices in the WVO collection market don't reflect these air quality benefits or avoided municipal costs, however. Fixing this market flaw with a state-funded incentive program would yield us cleaner air and save real money for local governments.
  • Support the algae biofuels industry. Algae-derived biofuels ("green solar," to borrow Mark Edwards' nomenclature) are an incredibly promising, potentially transformational technology. Arizona should be a leader in this space: we have the necessary natural resources (sun, heat, wastewater, cheap flat land), leading-edge world-class university research (ASU Poly, ASU Biodesign), unrivaled pilot implementations by APS, and an array of entrepreneurs doing amazing work. Yet other regions such as San Diego, New Mexico, and even St. Louis are seen as algae leaders; Arizona isn't even on the map. The state could fund demonstration projects that enable researchers and entrepreneurs to connect, and that showcase Arizona's strengths in this area.
  • Explore innovative agricultural feedstock options that work in our climate. For example, researchers in AZ have suggested that former open pit mines in the state could be seeded with low-water-need crops that could be used as biofuels inputs. The state could support pilot projects that focus on agricultural approaches to biofuels that fit our unique circumstances, with a goal of not displacing food crops.
  • Support biodiesel co-ops. The biodiesel "homebrew" community -- individuals who collect WVO and convert it to biodiesel at home -- has been far in front of the commercial community in terms of getting clean-burning biofuels in tanks and on the road in Arizona. The independence, innovation and initiative of the homebrewers is admirable, yet there are some safety and other challenges associated with homebrewing. Co-ops can serve to balance interests, enabling the do-it-yourself ethos within a more manageable environment. Biofuels co-ops in Arizona have struggled for funding and regulator support, however. The state could fund a pilot project that demonstrates the value of co-ops for reducing homebrew-related risks and enabling grassroots-based innovation.
All of the ideas above focus on what DBI calls "sustainable regional biofuels" -- that is, creating biofuel locally, in a sustainable manner, and using it locally. The benefits of this approach are (1) environmental (cleaner air), (2) economic (keep more of the $4 BILLION that Arizonans spend on fuel in the state), and (3) security-related (e.g., make ourselves less vulnerable to a pipeline disruption).

The state of Arizona is currently spending $900,000 on the "Arizona Biofuels Conversion Program." The program focuses on subsidizing fueling-station owners or other businesses (e.g. fleet owners) who convert their fuel infrastructure to handle biofuels -- either E85 (ethanol) or biodiesel. The program provides up to 40% matching funds for a conversion project, up to a maximum of $30K. Another aspect of the program provides similar support for municipalities.

My reaction: eh. Given the big opportunities with biofuels, this program seems to be targeted at a narrow problem. Further, the benefits to Arizona appear modest: if this program leads to more stations carrying ethanol, for example, and more people start using it, that could help our local air quality problems. But, given that corn ethanol and soy biodiesel -- the primary types of biofuels that would be sold via the subsidized infrastructure for the foreseeable future -- are produced out of state, using processes that (arguably) cause some environmental and economic problems (e.g., excessive fertilizer run-off, displacement of food crops), it's not obvious that the net benefits of the program are that high.

I would have liked to see the program focus on fostering local production of sustainable biofuels. I believe that if we had a robust local supply, demand would follow. And if we had supply and demand, I think the infrastructure issues that are the focus of the program would potentially be unnecessary.

What would you do with $1 million?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Updated "Biodiesel 101" available

An updated version of Han Huth's amazingly comprehensive "Biodiesel 101: An Introductory Guide to Brewing and Using Biodiesel in Arizona" is available at This is an incredible free resource for the AZ homebrew community. You can support Hans' efforts by purchasing a "Grease for Peace" bumper sticker via his site.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Some upcoming events

There are several events coming up that might be of interest:

1. On Sunday, November 8th, SustainaBIL, an "unconference" modeled on the BIL Conference, will be held at ASU Skysong beginning at 11am. I had a chance to talk with with conference co-organizer Brian Shaler today, and it sounds like the day will be quite interesting and fun. The organizers describe the event as "an unconference for people changing the world in big ways. It's a place for passionate people to come together to energize, brainstorm, and take action." Show up and listen, or show up and plan to talk about your passions. Send email to if you have a topic you'd like to speak about.

2. The 4th Annual Arizona Entrepreneurship Conference is coming up on November 12. DBI advisor Francine Hardaway is a principal organizer of this event. I attended last year and was extremely impressed with the energy in the rooms and the quality of the speakers, presentations and discussions. Highly recommended.

[SEE UPDATE BELOW] 3. ASU Technopolis is hosting an all-day workshop on November 13 "targets early-stage, first-time, writers of SBIR/STTR Program Phase I proposals, and is created for energy companies looking for grant funding. All government agencies will be covered, but special emphasis will be given to the Department of Energy. A review and discussion of various appropriate technology roadmaps will be included in the workshop." I suspect that this could be extremely valuable for some local biofuels companies. Details by phone 480-884-1804 or e-mail

[UPDATE: The Technopolis event has been postponed until after the 1st of the year.]

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Fuel Film to open Nationwide!

I never followed up with my review of Tickell's feature-length documentary, "Fuel." Let me cut to the chase: it's a must-see, and based on a press release at his website, it's opening nationwide this fall. More details here:

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Regarding "Cash-for-Clunkers"

I'm pretty much on extended hiatus from Desert Biofuels stuff, although I've been making my weekly trek down to AZ Biodiesel to top off and fill a couple 5 gallon jugs. As long as B99 is $2.19/gal it's hard to get motivated to go through the hassle of making biodiesel at home. So thanks Dan!

What I have been doing (besides my two jobs, and life in general) is trading a lot of emails with two of my brothers-in-law, one of whom is conservative, one of whom is liberal. I'm the token independent.

Some of the "conversations" get pretty far afield, but just the other day I forwarded a quote from a great motorcycle blog called The Kneeslider (subtitle: Motorcycle News for Positive People -- how cool is that?!). It's regarding the recently passed "Cash-for-Clunkers" bill and it that pretty much sums up my views on the insanity coming out of Washington D.C.:

Frederic Bastiat once said, “Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.” Unfortunately, we are now living in this fictitious world, or at least, many people are trying to make it come true.

Note to politicians giving away our money: You look more foolish and cynical every day by constantly adding people and businesses to your list of political beneficiaries, trying to buy votes with our money. Stop it.

Note to people and businesses taking the money: When you tell everyone how beneficial these programs are, you sound greedy and shallow and you think people believe you. Stop it.

I have a simple idea, let’s all buy our own cars, trucks, motorcycles or anything else we want within the limits of what we can afford. Then companies can build products that people want to buy. There’s no government bureaucracy involved either so we can start immediately. Let’s try that.

Motorcycle Vouchers Proposed in Addition to Cash for Clunkers - A Bad Idea Gets Worse

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Solar charged electric motorcycle in Apache Junction

Just saw this on Gas 2.0: a (supposedly) fully electric, solar charged motorcycle. 50 mile range and 90 mph top speed. Right here in Apache Junction!

GreenFuel Technologies goes down...

The company that partnered with APS at the "Redhawk" facility to capture carbon dioxide from the power plant's emissions is going out of business.

We've often wondered what happened to the GreenFuel/APS algae pilot: now we know.

Getting the whole thing to run smoothly [...] was tougher than expected. GreenFuel could grow algae. The problem was controlling it. In 2007, a project to grow algae in an Arizona greenhouse went awry when the algae grew faster than they could be harvested and died off. The company also found its system would cost more than twice its target.

The closed photobioreactor model used by GreenFuel (and others) appears especially challenging in terms of up-front expense.

I recently posted a link to a paper by Jeff Hassania which discusses the sobering economics of algae.

A GreenFuel Technologies timeline is available at BiofuelsDigest.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Visit to XL Renewables

On Monday I had the opportunity to visit the XL Renewables algae production facility in Casa Grande, AZ and was deeply impressed by the progress they are making: among other things, I was able to leave with some sample algae that was a HUGE hit with the 7th grade class I spoke to about biofuels on Tuesday.

I particularly like the trench-based, farm-like model that XL pursues, as their low-cost approach seems like a promising way to address the difficult economic challenges that algae producers face. It was also great to speak with Mike Bellefuille and George McNeely of XL and hear about the hard-won lessons they are learning about growing algae at production scale -- they've had to navigate through a host of practical difficulties and now have invaluable experience (and lots of algae!) to show for it.

It's fantastic to see algae moving beyond just lab experiments and PowerPoint slides. Kudos to XL for meeting the "running code" test!

Mike Bellefuille and George McNeely

Friday, May 8, 2009

Nice review for Green Algae Strategy

Congratulations to Mark Edwards, whose book Green Algae Strategy: End Oil Imports and Engineer Sustainable Food and Fuel continues to receive some great reviews; see, e.g., this review at Celsias. Green Algae Strategy is available at and via free download on the downloads page (scroll down).

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Desert Sweet Biofuels forum at ASU SkySong

At our recent workshop Professor Mark Edwards announced a forum that he is coordinating with Gary Woods and the team from Desert Sweet Biofuels, a commercial algae venture. The forum is planned for Friday, May 22 (not May 15, as initially announced) from 9am to noon, at ASU SkySong; the flyer for the event can be downloaded here.

Mark is planning to facilitate additional forums where different companies and organizations can do a "deep dive" on their particular technologies or vision (i.e., not constrained by the 5 minute format we insisted on for the Workshop). Please contact Mark if you'd be interested in presenting at such a forum. We're envisioning a monthly speakers series, picking up in the Fall.

Monday, May 4, 2009

More DPF/biodiesel news

Popular Mechanics has posted an article by Dave Hubbard explaining the Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) / biodiesel incompatibility issue, and Jason Burroughs of DieselGreen Fuels has written up his experience with a 2009 VW TDI on biodieselSMARTER.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Economic viability of algae-based biofuels

Jeff Hassania of Diversified Energy Corporation in Gilbert, who recently presented some of this information at the 2nd Desert Biofuels Workshop, has published an editorial on the commercial viability of algae-based biofuels.

PDF format: Algae Biofuels Economic Viability: A Project-Based Perspective

Friday, April 24, 2009

2nd DBI Workshop summary

Francine Hardaway, a long-time friend of Desert Biofuels Initiative, has posted an excellent synopsis of the 2nd Desert Biofuels Workshop on her blog.

2nd Desert Biofuels Workshop and DPFs: an update

[Boy, say something in public and they want to hold you to it... Sheesh!]

We just had a fantastic 2nd Desert Biofuels Initiative Workshop at ASU SkySong; about 150 in attendance, and just a great energy and buzz during the 3 hours from 9a to 12p (plus post-workshop pizza lunch: score! Huge shout-out to Dan Rees and AZ Biodiesel for paying the pizza man).

Brad did an unbelievable job in organizing and playing emcee. The format was a series of fast-paced 5 minute "update" presentations, including many who presented last year, and some new faces. A webpage with the slides from today's event is already online.

I limited myself to some (mostly) extemporaneous remarks, and started by asking: "how many of you drove here today using biofuel?" As you might guess, even among this self-selected and highly motivated group, I would (generously) estimate a dozen hands went up.

When I got home I wrote up and expanded on my thoughts, put them into PowerPoint, and they're now also online. Kind of like a mulligan. Cool.

But it was my closing comment that got the most attention of my talk: I mentioned the ongoing issue with diesel particulate filters, which are being used in newer passenger vehicles with diesel engines. After expressing new-found respect, and even empathy, for the engine manufacturers, I noted that anyone who is running biodiesel in these newer engines should be aware that in-cylinder injection of fuel in a post-combustion process can experience problems, like oil dilution, high and/or premature wear, etc.

I summed up with something like: what are we going to do if we finally get widely available biodiesel, and then don't have any new vehicles that are compatible with it?

I've blogged about this issue previously, and I had several people approach me at the break to ask me about it, and later received a phone call of disapprobation from a prominent local biodiesel advocate.

I think I've been about as public an advocate of biodiesel as most people can be, without being a public figure, so I want to clarify that I'm talking about a very specific technical, but real, problem with newer engines and their biodiesel compatibility.

More on the "post-combustion" issue here:

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

FUEL film extended in Scottsdale

Greg Piraino writes: "due to increasing ticket sales, FUEL will be extended until April 30th". So if you haven't had a chance to see Josh Tickell's film, go see it!

"Showing at Harkins Camelview 5 - several showings per day through April 30th unless extended. Tickets and more info is available at or"

Saturday, April 18, 2009

FUEL film follow-up

Dave posted a introduction to the Josh Tickell film "FUEL" which is now showing at Harkins Camelview 5 in Scottsdale. I was invited to this Saturday's 7p show; afterward there was a short Q&A with Greg Piraino of Applied Engineering (who's helping with local promotion of the film), Greg Pitz of Logos Solar, and me. Friday's panel included Mark Edwards of

Saturday's audience included Dan Rees of AZ Biodiesel, who answered questions about getting biodiesel into local school buses, and James Towner of AZ and the Arizona Alternative Fuel Alliance.

The film itself was visually compelling and told Josh's personal story around biodiesel, with a liberal sprinkling of political muckraking. Tighter editing would help; toward the end of the film not much new is being said. Dorothy attended as my "guest" and Harkins got his $5.50 for Emily. All three of us were fidgeting in our seats by the 90 minute mark of the nearly 2 hour movie. The soundtrack was fantastic.

Many of the issues are more nuanced than the somewhat histrionic version Tickell presents, and some of the interviewee's proposed solutions would only exacerbate our current problems (new government mandates and subsidies are mentioned more than once as "obvious" solutions).

One of the reasons *why* we are in this pickle: we don't pay, at the pump, the true cost of petroleum (we pay in other ways, though: through higher taxes to pay for foreign entanglements, and Superfund cleanups, for example). These externalities subsidize our petroleum dependence, and prevent alternatives from competing on a level playing field. This is a *hard* problem for which lots of solutions have been proposed.

And it seems, at least to me, that few people want to acknowledge the obvious: we benefit greatly from cheap energy, in the form of, well, everything! Food, clothes, housing, ... Whatever the solution is it better be consistent with first principles. Is massive social engineering really required? To quote David Boaz: "A socialist system - or an interventionist state, which is just partial socialism - requires uniform solutions to problems rather than the myriad variety of solutions available through the market process." [1]

Here's a simple question: Are we willing to pay for what we use?

Despite its faults the movie achieves its main purpose: to inform and, more importantly, to motivate those rapidly diminishing number of persons who are unaware that we have serious and immediate issues with our continuing dependence on petroleum. It'll also be interesting to see if Tickell can generate enough buzz, and money, to fund a follow-up: something that provides a "deep-dive" into some of the proposed alternatives to oil.

After all, folks (especially those for whom this is all new) want to know: what do I *do*? Suggesting CFLs is good as far as it goes, but kind of misses the point. Using his own logic, if the situation is really as dire as Tickell suggests, then we *really* need to focus on the big wins.

But enough nit-picking: FUEL is *definitely* worth checking out.

[1] The Politics of Freedom: Taking on the Left, the Right, and Threats to Our Liberties, David Boaz, 2008

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The FUEL Film

For over 7 years I've been following the work of Josh Tickell. Most of you are familiar with his self-published book, "From the Fryer to the Fuel Tank," a glossy primer for homebrewers. Tickell took his lead from the women who, in the early 1990s, traveled the US on B100 (and possibly WVO; obtaining the film is elusive) and filmed a documentary entitled "The Fat of the Land." Some of Tickell's critics argue he failed to acknowledge this seminal work, unfairly accepting the title of "Pioneer" bestowed unto him by his followers. I mention this not to diminish Tickell's impact for Biodiesel awareness but to note there is some controversy (in fact, he deserves more credit than any other single person or entitiy, in my view - except maybe Rudy Diesel!).

Over the last few years, Josh parted ways with the homebrew community (accused of "selling out" and abandoning amateur scientists and engineers) to reach a broader audience, primarily through presentations and keynote addresses to farmers, policymakers, and investors. For years, he's been working on shorts and a feature-length documentary, which won accolades at independent film festivals worldwide.

Now, buoyed by the support of Hollywood icons like Peter Fonda, the film is building national momentum. In fact, it starts tomorrow in Scottsdale. I plan to attend the Saturday 7pm show, where Josh will be leading Q&A (according to his website:

Friday, April 3, 2009

2nd Annual Desert Biofuels Workshop - April 24, 2009

Our first Desert Biofuels Workshop, held in March of 2008, was an exciting event; attendee feedback included comments such as:

  • "...a watershed for AZ biodiesel..."
  • " ...never been at a conference with such broad representation, from corporate, to government, education, NGOs and home brewers..."
  • "...showed just how important this topic is..."
  • "...tremendously valuable..."

Details about last year's event can be found here (the "agenda" .pdf file includes links to the slides presented by each speaker).

For our second annual Desert Biofuels Workshop we hope to build on last year's success. Our primary goals for the Workshop are to (1) enable the diverse members of the Arizona biofuels community to connect with each other, and (2) explore how the $50 Billion in energy programs in the stimulus bill can advance biofuels in Arizona.

Confirmed presenters include (in alphabetical order):

  • John Andrews, Principal, Biofeedstocks Global
  • Andrew Ayers, CEO, Algae Biosciences
  • Ben Cloud, President & COO, XL Renewables
  • Jeff Collier, CEO, Energy Derived
  • Dave Conz, ASU
  • Colleen Crowninshield, Tucson Clean Cities Coalition [via videoconference]
  • Bob Eaton, President & CEO, AZBio
  • Gary Greenburg, Science Foundation AZ
  • Francine Hardaway, Stealthmode Partners
  • Jeff Hassannia, VP, Diversified Energy
  • Gene Leach and Jay Nance, Founders, Dynamite Biofuels Co-op
  • Gordon LeBlanc Jr., CEO, PetroSun
  • Victor Merino & Max Enterline, City of Phoenix
  • Kelly Patton or Dan Henderson, Town of Gilbert
  • Dan Rees, President, AZ Biodiesel
  • Bill Sheaffer, VP, Amereco Biofuels
  • Chris Walker (formerly of PinalJet and AZ Biofuels)
  • Gary Wood, CEO, Desert Sweet Biofuels
  • Neal Woodbury or John McGowen, ASU Biodesign Institute
  • other invitations pending

We'll also feature an analysis of biofuels-related funding opportunities (grants, loan guarantees and tax incentives) available under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the "stimulus bill").

The Workshop will be held at ASU SkySong on Friday April 24th, 2009, on the first floor in the "Convergence" conference room. We'll have coffee and networking from 9:00 to 9:30am, and then begin the Workshop promptly at 9:30am. We'll end at 12 noon.

The Workshop is free and open to the public. Register at

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Ignite Phoenix presentation

I had the pleasure of presenting a 5 minute overview of our Desert Biofuels Initiative history and vision at Ignite Phoenix #3 at the Tempe Center for the Arts on Feb. 25th:

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Eric rocks the third grade

Eric gave a talk this week on sustainable biofuels to some elementary school students, and got some rave reviews from the teacher and volunteer coordinator, excerpted below. Their feedback was very kind, and nice for DBI to hear. Great job Eric!!! (I sense that he had as much fun as any of the students.)
  • "The students loved it"
  • "...said it was amazing"
  • "They particularly liked looking at and smelling the waste cooking oil and the refined biofuel that it was turned into."
  • "The algae farm sparked their imaginations"
  • "Your videos were informative and the perfect length for their attention spans."
  • "You were very patient with their many questions and spoke to the children as if they were adults, which they really appreciated."
  • "We are so grateful for your talk and for the work you are doing with alternative energy."
  • "The students loved it, and ... kept referring back to the things they learned later in the day."
  • "It's so good for kids to see the things that are being done to better the environment, and also to see some of the options, career-wise, found in various areas!"

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Amereco B99 at Western States Petroleum

Western States Petroleum has been selling Amereco B99 for a while now but I hadn't been down to WSP since they added it. Since I was downtown already this morning I went by to fill up.

According to the folks I spoke to, WSP is now selling only Amereco B99 (which is made from WVO) at the B99 pump at 16th Ave and Grant, and the Iowa "Soy diesel" is only available to bulk customers.

Light duty B99 pricing on 1/28/09 was $2.19/gal.

Way to go Bill!

Meeting the Phoenix Biodiesel Task Force

Today Brad and I had a meeting at Phoenix City Hall with the newly formed "Bio-diesel Taskforce". Desert Biofuels Initiative was invited to come and give a 15 minute presentation about biodiesel and "homebrew".

After I received the email meeting invitation last week, we quickly enlisted the aid of several DBI "advisers" to get input on what to present and how to present it. Hans Huth in particular gave invaluable feedback on our slides (which we will post on our website). (Sidenote): Hans' manual is exactly the type of thorough, well-organized information that homebrewers can use to be safe and effective, and it gives real weight to the assersition that homemade biodiesel can be done responsibly.

Going into the meeting we didn't have any idea of what had already been discussed within the City bureaucracy, or how much impact we would have with our presentation. But it was great to be invited to participate.

As the various department reps assembled (Fire, Planning, Development Services, ...) we had a chance to review the minutes from the initial Biodiesel Task Force meeting, held Dec 12, 2008. At that meeting, according to the minutes, it was decided that "Planning will start drafting changes to their ordinance to prohibit bio-diesel manufacturing in residential zoning." Ugh! It appeared that we would be facing an uphill, and perhaps futile, slog.

Brad gave a short intro about DBI and then segued into my presentation about "homebrew". My purpose was: a) to accurately describe the basics of making biodiesel at home, b) to describe the advantages and challenges of homemade biodiesel, and c) to emphasize (as previously discussed here) that although it may not be reasonable to make large quantities of biodiesel at home (with "large" yet to be defined), it was certainly reasonable to allow some quantity of biodiesel to be made at home, and Phoenix residents should be at liberty to pursue their "homebrew" activities as long as they do not negatively impact their neighbors. We noted that the Town of Gilbert has already taken a "pro-homebrewer" stance which we find very encouraging, and we expressed hope that the City of Phoenix will follow their lead.

Whether or not we achieved these goals, we did have ample opportunity to answer the numerous questions that came up. And, in closing, we emphasized the need to continue dialog on this issue.

DBI will be hosting a "homebrewer safety" workshop at ASU SkySong where we hope to assemble homebrewers, home biodiesel processor manufacturers, biodiesel cooperatives, and various government stakeholders, the purpose being more constructive discussion on this topic.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

(Mis)reporting the problems with biodiesel

Gas 2.0 has an interesting update to the story you may have heard about Minnesota school buses being disabled by biodiesel:

Some Cold Truth About Biodiesel In Minnesota

School buses that left kids stranded in the cold, buses running a biodiesel blend per the Minnesota B2 mandate, were reportedly disabled by the biodiesel turning "gel-like".

The truth, it appears, is that the petroleum gunked up the fuel system, according to the National Biodiesel Board.


Coffee diesel: update

Ken Costello has done an initial oil extraction from the coffee grounds we procured from MonaLou Callery's Cup o' Karma. It turns out that the coffee grounds only contain about 10% oil, and the amount of hexane lost to evaporation exceeds the amount of oil extracted (at least in the small amounts used for his testing) by a factor of 4.5!

To get 15ml of coffee oil Ken lost 70ml of hexane during the extraction process (he recovered 230ml). Since hexane costs about $16 a gallon, plus shipping and hazmat fees, we probably aren't looking at a new feedstock for biodiesel! A lot of the hexane lost was residue in the coffee grounds that evaporated out when the grounds were dried, after extracting the oil. Residual hexane in the coffee oil also reduced the final amount of coffee oil.

Ken will be trying additional extractions to a) see if he can reduce the amount of hexane lost in processing, and b) scale-up the process to get us to a gallon of coffee oil to turn into biodiesel.

You can check out Ken's full write up of his experiment on his Chemistry Land website.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Coffee diesel

About a month ago Brad got a wild hair and posted a note to a small group of us about the recently published paper:

Spent Coffee Grounds as a Versatile Source of Green Energy
Narasimharao Kondamudi, Susanta K. Mohapatra, Mano Misra
Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2008 56 (24), 11757-11760

Paraphrasing, he said: "Wouldn't it be cool if we could get used coffee grounds from a local coffee shop, extract the residual oil, turn it into biodiesel, and document the process via pictures, video and blog(s), from start to finish?"

Well, why not?

Ken Costello is a friend of Desert Biofuels and was intrigued by the idea. He agreed to do some small test batches to determine how much oil was present in the coffee grounds. MonaLou Callery, who operates Cup o' Karma in Mesa, agreed to collect coffee grounds for the project.

So yesterday I went down to Mesa and picked up two 5 gallon pails of coffee grounds and delivered them to Ken this morning. He'll be spending at least part of this afternoon trying to find out the percentage of residual oil in the grounds, and then a reasonably efficient way to scale up the extraction process so that we can get about a gallon of oil to turn in to biodiesel.

We'll post a full report, with pictures and maybe video, sometime soon.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Another "Europe only" diesel

How long, oh Lord, how long? HST used to write that a lot. It was the first thing that came to mind (again!) when I read that BMW is releasing a new turbo diesel that gets 54 MPG, is BMW's least polluting vehicle ever (and looks cool as hell), but it will, of course, ONLY BE SOLD IN EUROPE.

What is our friggin' problem? Doesn't anybody in a position of authority here in the US care that we are getting hosed? Are the EPA and our other "safety czars" really this intransigent?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

2008 Desert Biofuels Initiative Accomplishments

Happy New Year to all! We created the following summary of our accomplishments for 2008. Our heartfelt gratitude to the many, many people who made this possible. We look forward to an exciting 2009!

  • Formed as an Arizona non-profit corporation in April.
  • Submitted application for 501(c)(3) status with the IRS.
  • Established tenancy at ASU SkySong.
  • Hired full-time Acting Executive Director.
  • Established advisory group that includes highly-respected biofuel experts, university professors, public relations and business professionals.
  • Developed and launched professionally-designed website at
  • Developed professionally-designed logo, courtesy of Brands By OVO.
  • Organized and held the first annual Desert Biofuels Workshop. Participant comments:
    • "...a watershed for AZ biodiesel..."
    • " ...never been at a conference with such broad representation, from corporate, to government, education, NGOs and home brewers..."
    • "...showed just how important this topic is..."
    • "...tremendously valuable..."
  • Regularly published blog with news and information relevant to the Arizona biofuels community (called "a must-read for the current happenings in biofuels in Arizona"). Biofuels expert Professor Dave Conz of ASU joined us as a regular blogger. Also maintained an e-mail discussion list with local biofuels community members.
  • Created three white papers researching and analyzing key issues:
    • Analysis of law and regulations applicable to Arizona biodiesel producers
    • Analysis of biofuels feedstocks relevant to Arizona (includes groundbreaking primary research concerning the volume of waste vegetable oil (WVO) feedstock in the Phoenix area and identifies potential linkages between WVO disposal issues and sewer blockages and overflows)
    • Analysis of biofuels incentive programs implemented in other states
  • Developed proposal for Algae Biofuel Demonstration plant:
    • Identified site location for the pilot plant on municipal property. Received an informal (non-binding) commitment from the municipality.
    • Completed detailed cost estimates and briefs for the project. Renderings of the pilot project are in progress.
    • Identified and are pursuing potential funding sources for the project.
    • Key project partners--including several private companies, the municipality and the university--are actively engaged with us in the exploration process.
  • Researched and developed materials demonstrating benefits of a WVO-based biodiesel to municipalities (focused on environmental, safety and water treatment issues). Presented to two local municipalities.
  • Developed proposal for WVO incentive program (goal: all local restaurant grease converted to biodiesel; would, e.g, displace 100,000 tons of CO2 from Valley air). Discussed with key stakeholders. Refining proposal based on input received and on results of feedstock analysis white paper research.
  • Facilitated tours of (a) ASU Algae Lab, (b) XL Renewables pilot algae facility, and (c) the Dynamite Biofuels Co-op for key stakeholders in the Arizona biofuels community.
  • Developed and launched IT infrastructure for algae biofuels wiki. Arranged for ASU intern to lead wiki project in 2009.
  • Presented our sustainable regional biofuels vision at (a) an algae biofuels conference hosted by the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) and (b) the Arizona Entrepreneurship Conference. Participated in the Phoenix chapter of the Arizona Green Chamber of Commerce launch event. Participated in the CTO Forum on Green Technology hosted by Intel Corporation.
  • Met with and discussed our vision with numerous elected officials and other policymakers (U.S. Congress, AZ State Legislature, AZ Dept. of Environmental Quality, City of Phoenix, City of Scottsdale, City of Buckeye).
  • Organizing a homebrew safety “Roundtable” which complements the City of Phoenix in the creation of a homebrew safety taskforce.
  • Organizing an event to create biodiesel from used coffee grounds.
  • Established an affiliation with Professor Mark Edwards of ASU and developed as a sister site to our site. Built infrastructure for new site; launch planned in 2009. Green Independence is the global portion of DBI’s vision in the use of biofuel based on algae. Professor Edwards, author of Green Algae Strategy, leads our Green Independence effort.
  • Established a strong working relationship with the Arizona State University Technology Ventures Services Group. TVSG interns were the lead authors of our white papers on policy issues facing biofuel production.
  • Received private donations sufficient to cover 2008 expenses.
  • Submitted grant applications for 2009 operational funding, including (a) EPA Environmental Education Grant and (b) Echoing Green Fellowship Application.
  • Identified potential funding sources for future projects. This includes funding from private individuals, corporations, foundations, and governments.