Teaching farmers to make biodiesel fuel from waste vegetable oil

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2006: $46,476.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $60,000.00
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Matt Steiman
Wilson College

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: canola, soybeans, sunflower


  • Crop Production: municipal wastes
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, workshop, technical assistance
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, cooperatives
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities, employment opportunities, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    This project will teach farmers in central Pennsylvania and northern Maryland to make biodiesel fuel from waste vegetable oil for use on the farm. Biodiesel is a renewable alternative to diesel fuel that burns in unmodified diesel engines and oil-burning heating appliances. Biodiesel can be safely made in farm shops using easily fabricated equipment and readily available supplies. Farms making and using biodiesel increase their sustainability by reducing their reliance on outside energy sources, utilizing a locally available waste product, decreasing their emissions of harmful pollutants, and reducing fuel costs. The goal of this project is to increase the number of farmers who produce and use their own biodiesel fuel, while ensuring that they do so in a manner that is safe and non-polluting. The Fulton Center for Sustainable Living (FCSL) of Wilson College in Chambersburg, PA has an established biodiesel education program, including a mobile 50-gallon fuel processor, and a history of leading workshops for farmers and other members of the community. Project staff, including FCSL management, student assistants, and an associated engineer will utilize this experience to engage farmers in an intensive educational program, in which beneficiaries will be supported as they undertake fuel production on their own farms. The project will offer one-day hands-on workshops to farmers, then invite participants to apply for funds to construct their own biodiesel processors. Ten selected farmers will receive up to $1500 for processor materials, and will be supported by project staff as they design, construct, and learn to use their machines. In return, these farmers will be asked to convert 500 gallons of waste vegetable oil to biodiesel fuel, and to give one workshop for other growers to demonstrate the process of safe and effective fuel making. Out of 70 farmers who participate in hands-on biodiesel workshops, 10 will adopt biodiesel fuel production as a part of their regular practice.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    Of the 70 farmers who participate in hands-on biodiesel workshops, at least 10 will adopt biodiesel fuel production as a part of their regular practice. These 10 farmers will have achieved success when they have produced at least 500 gallons of biodiesel, and have hosted a workshop on fuel production for five or more other growers.

    The outcome of this project will be improved farm sustainability by lower operating costs and decreased environmental impact resulting from a reduction in fossil fuel use.

    Project success will be measured by initial workshop evaluations, and through close communication with farmer participants using support calls and visits. Farmers will be asked to track their fuel production, and will agree to hold a public workshop as a condition of funding for their biodiesel processors. Project staff will assist farmer participants in presenting public workshops, and will evaluate each farmer’s grasp of fuel-making techniques and safety protocols.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.