Teaching farmers to make biodiesel fuel from waste vegetable oil

2007 Annual Report for LNE06-247

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

Teaching farmers to make biodiesel fuel from waste vegetable oil


Work during year two of the project (2007) has shifted focus, roughly following the timeline laid out in the original project proposal. The year began by wrapping up the major outreach phase that occurred during the 2006 farmers workshop series, then shifted to a time of support for farmer participants, research and development of advanced processing techniques, and writing and editing the Best Practices Manual in conjunction with colleagues from Penn State and the PA Departmnent of Environmental Protection.

Objectives/Performance Targets

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.


At the close of year two, the following milestones have been met:

Over 100 farmers expressed interest in biodiesel workshops

Over 70 (120+) farmers participated in six hands-on biodiesel workshops

18 farmers submitted applications for grant funding through the project

The following milestones have yet to be met:
Of the ten farmers selected for start-up funds mini-grants and intensive support, only five have completed construction of their biodiesel plants

Six farmers have begun processing biodiesel. All but one farmer has made at least some progress toward completion of the project.
Three farmers have successfully produced over 500 gallons of biodiesel fuel and given a workshop/tour to their neighbors.

In January of 2007 the Project Coordinator (PC) left his full time position at Wilson College and began work at Dickinson College 40 miles north in Carlisle, PA. The PC continues to maintain a working relationship with Wilson College, heading up the outreach functions of the ongoing biodiesel program, including administration of this project. The PC has trained several faculty and staff members at Wilson College to take over the physical production of biodiesel on the college farm. In 2008 a new farm manager will take over at Wilson College, at which time the PC will train that person and help with the renovation of the demonstration biodiesel facility.

The PC’s roles at Dickinson College include assistant farm manager and supervisor of the Dickinson College biodiesel program. This move has been fortuitous for the SARE-funded biodiesel outreach program, in that the PC now works in a heated space wholly dedicated to regular biodiesel production, research, and demonstration. Several farmer participants and beneficiaries have visited the Dickinson shop for brew sessions, hands-on tours, equipment discussions, and demonstrations of advanced techniques. (All beneficiaries have an open invitation to visit the shop by appointment.) The PC has also been able to hone his skills as a biodiesel producer at no cost to the SARE project, as his time in the Dickinson shop is funded internally.

The Dickinson College biodiesel shop makes fuel for campus equipment, including irrigation pumps at the new campus organic farm, several trucks and utility vehicles, lawn mowers, and a variety of heating appliances. In 2007 the shop processed over 2000 gallons of waste fryer oil into biodiesel fuel. The shop is operated by students under the direction of the PC, with full support of the campus Facilities Management department. Emphasis in the shop is on safety, environmental responsibility, fuel quality, outreach, and research of new processing techniques.

New methods practiced at the Dickinson plant include methanol recovery from fuel and glycerol byproduct through simple distillation. This practice is now considered to be a cornerstone of the “best management practices”, in that it reduces the safe handling challenges for the byproducts of biodiesel production, while potentially saving producers money, inputs, and energy. The PC is actively promoting this practice with all participant farmers.

On April 14th, the final hands-on farmers workshop in the SARE funded series was held at Wilson College. Over 25 farmers attended, including the operations manager from Penn State University, employees of the Department of Environmental Protection, and other growers from across Pennsylvania. Following the workshop, a second round of applications for start-up funds was collected and reviewed. Four additional farms were selected to receive start-up funds and intensive technical support: Brian Harris, Sunset Ridge Farm (Milan PA); Attilla Agoston, Mountain View Farm/Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship (Purcellville, VA) ;Kenneth Cummings, Rock Ridge Farm (Oakland, MD); and Sebastian Kretchmer, Sankanac CSA (Kimberton, PA).

From this point, the PC shifted project’s focus from outreach to supporting the farmers selected for cost share and technical assistance. Phone and electronic mail conversations were backed up by site visits to participant farms, and farmer visits to the Dickinson College biodiesel shop. As of the close of 2007, farmer participants have reached varying states of progress with their individual biodiesel projects. Progress is summarized below:

1. Greensgrow Farm Mary Seton Corboy, Philadelphia PA: (www.greensgrow.org and http://www.greensgrow.org/gallery/main.php?g2_itemId=353 ) Greensgrow operates a unique urban farm at a former brownfield site in downtown Philadelphia. The farm grows a wide variety of produce in raised beds, raises herbs, vegetable starts, and ornamentals as bedding plants, and operates a CSA, garden center, and markets to restaurants. The farm also performs community organizing and educational functions, and serves as a marketing venue for other farms located outside the city.

Philadelphia biodiesel “homebrew” expert Steve Richter agreed to assist the Wilson College project as a remote field advisor, and proved instrumental in the successful start up of the Greensgrow project. Steve worked with Greensgrow staff to design and build the production system, and then coached the farmers through their first several batches of fuel. The Greensgrow biodiesel project consists of an 80 gallon water heater based reactor, with standard wash and dry equipment. Fuel is used on the farm, and surplus production is provided to a local biodiesel co-op in exchange for donations to the Greensgrow non-profit. The farm is well situated, in that it is able to collect ample free fryer oil from its restaurant produce contracts in the city.

The PC visited the farm during the summer to answer safety and environmental responsibility questions, and continues to support the Greensgrow team via phone and email. By late summer of 2007, Greensgrow completed their obligation to the grant by producing over 500 gallons of fuel and conducting several informational tours of the biodiesel shop for farmers and neighborhood consumers. The farm is continuing to make fuel, and plans to work with the PC to implement methanol recovery technology later this winter.

2. Sankanac CSA Farm Sebastian Kretschmer, Kimberton PA: Sebastian caught the biodiesel bug at an introductory workshop given by the PC at a PASA Farming for the Future Conference. After tinkering around with some initial production, he sent two interns from Sankanac CSA to the April 14th intensive workshop at Wilson College. After being selected as a participant farm and receiving funding, the Sankanac group committed whole heartedly to the biodiesel project and has proceeded with much success. Sankanac CSA is a produce and livestock farm, located within the Camphill Kimberton biodynamic community. They host several interns, both from around the country and internationally.

Sankanac CSA uses an 80 gallon water heater and standard wash and dry equipment for processing. Farm-appropriate innovations include an outdoor wood-fired preheat tank for dewatering fryer oil and speeding winter production. Sankanac has been very effective at collecting fryer oil from a number of local restaurants. They are producing high quality fuel for use in farm tractors and delivery trucks.

The PC and students from Dickinson College visited the Sankanac project twice during the year to discuss safety, methanol recovery, and process design. In November of 2007 the farm completed its obligation to the SARE grant by surpassing the 500 gallon mark, and hosting a well attended hands-on workshop for local farmers and customers. Following the workshop, volunteers helped to relocate processing equipment to a protected indoor location suitable for winter production. The Sankanac project has begun constructing gear for methanol recovery from fuel and glycerol, and is also exploring using solar heated water to improve processing efficiency.

3. Charles Kolb Farm, Thurmont, MD: Charles Kolb began his biodiesel experience with an 80 gallon water heater reactor, but he did not stay at that scale for long. Mr. Kolb has a knack for on-farm engineering, an inventor’s spirit, and the desire to collect a wide variety of used equipment at auctions around the region. With these skills and interests, in the summer of 2007 Mr. Kolb completed a 400 gallon batch reactor for large-scale biodiesel production.

The Kolb system is a scaled-up version of a water heater processing line, with larger tanks for chemical mixing, reacting, and washing, higher wattage electrical heat input, and a larger pump to drive the system. The goal of the system is labor efficiency: what this plant can do in one production session would take eight times as long in a smaller water-heater based shop. The Kolb farm raises agronomic crops and offers custom equipment work to other farms around the region.

The PC worked with Mr. Kolb to run his first large batch through the new reactor, offering chemical analysis support and safety consultations. The PC also arranged for Mr. Kolb to visit Pogoil, a successful larger farm-scale biodiesel producer located near Frederick MD. After discussing methanol recovery during that visit, Mr. Kolb adapted the technology to fit his system and successfully incorporated this advanced step into his process line. Consultations continue as Mr. Kolb seeks to further streamline and improve his project. Mr. Kolb has also developed an innovative method for collecting fryer oil, using engine vacuum from his pickup truck to draw oil from restaurant barrels into a bed-mounted storage tank.

Charles Kolb completed his obligation to the SARE funded project when he made his second batch of fuel (800 gallons total) and conducted a demonstration workshop for neighboring farmers. He is seeking out new fryer oil contracts with local restaurant chains, while also doing experimental research into commercial possibilities for his glycerol byproduct.

4. Jim Bricker, Dancing Goat Farm/ Waste Oil Recyclers, Coatesville, PA: Jim Bricker has jumped head first into used fryer oil collection, and is on his way to making a successful business out of it. Mr. Bricker’s goal has been to collect fryer oil from large restaurant accounts, and then provide the oil to farmers and other small-scale biodiesel producers around the region. Working with a partner on land rented from Dancing Goat Farm, he built a water heater based processor and began making fuel in the summer of 2007. Mr. Bricker visited the Dickinson College shop over the summer for a hands-on refresher course and methanol recovery demonstration session. Shortly thereafter, he fell into an unfortunate land dispute with the owners of Dancing Goat Farm, and was forced to relocate his waste oil processing operation to another piece of land.

As of December 2007, Mr. Bricker’s operation has fully recovered from the move, and he is now working out of a heated space appropriate to the project. His waste fryer oil collection business is extremely successful- he has landed contracts with Aramark foodservice corporation, and is picking up as much as 10,000 gallons of oil per month from multiple locations around Philadelphia.

The Bricker project will soon restart biodiesel production on a pilot scale. They intend to offer their facility as an educational resource for farmers from around the region. At this time they have not yet met the 500 gallon production obligation to the grant, but are expected to reach that mark by the spring of 2008.

5. Mountain View Farm/ Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship, Attila Agoston, Purcelville, VA: The Mountain View Farm project is using a standard water heater based processor and wash line. Mountain View Farm is conveniently located amongst several cooperating produce farms just outstide the Washington DC area. Equipment purchased for the biodiesel project is being shared by two neighboring farms. Mr Agoston has worked with the PC via regular phone and email consultations, and the PC will visit the farm in early 2008. Although the farm has not yet reached the 500 gallon mark, they are committed to the project and expect to reach that goal in 2008.

6. Two Particular Acres, Ned Foley, Royersford, PA. Ned Foley operates a widely acclaimed commercial composting operation on his land near Philadelphia PA. He accepts food waste and cardboard from area grocery stores, which he then turns into high quality compost using a forced aerated static pile system.

As of December 2007, Mr. Foley has begun collecting fryer oil and located several oil sources. He has purchased a water heater and intends to build that into his reactor system. He and the PC have been unable to coordinate a visit due to busy conflicting schedules, but plan to get together later this winter. Mr. Foley will attend the Advanced Biodiesel course organized by the PC at the 2008 PASA conference.

7. Healthberry Farm, Ben McKean, Dry Fork, WV. Ben Mckean raises berries and honey for sale on his 40 acres in rural mountainous West Virginia. He has organized all of the parts needed to build his biodiesel plant, and is waiting for warmer weather to complete construction of the project. He has collected over 300 gallons of fryer oil from area restaurants and is negotiating for more contracts. The PC will visit Healthberry Farm in the spring to assist with launching the production facility.

8. Sunset Ridge Farm, Brian Harris, Milan, PA. Brian Harris runs a mixed crop /dairy farm in northern PA. He and his son will construct and operate the biodiesel equipment as a school project. As of December 2007 he is still in the planning phase. The PC will visit Sunset Ridge Farm later this winter.

9. Rock Ridge Farm, Kenneth Cummings, Oakland, MD. Mr. Cummings raises row crops, hay, and small grains on 80 acres in mountainous western Maryland. He is a master plumber, welder, and machinist, and his son is a mechanical engineer with carpentry experience. Mr. Cummings delayed the start of his biodiesel project in order to finish a house he has been constructing on the farm. He has begun collecting fryer oil and has purchased several pieces of used equipment appropriate for the project. The PC will visit Rock Ridge Farm later this winter for a refresher course and design consultation.

10. New Morning Farm, Sean McDermott & Jennifer Schmehl, Hustontown, PA. New Morning Farm is a medium-scale commercial organic produce operation located in the Tuscarora mountains of Pennsylvania. New Morning is the host site for the Tuscarora Organic Growers Cooperative, a successful multi-farm collective marking organization that services Washington DC.
Sean McDermott visited the PC at the Dickinson College shop for a full day refresher course in bioidesel brewing. Sean and Jennifer fell into field manager responsibilities at the farm, and proved to be too busy to initiate the biodiesel project in 2007. They hope to begin work on the project this winter. If they are unable to make progress before the summer of 2008 they will be asked to return their start-up funds to the SARE project.

11. Wil-Ar Farm, Wilmer Newswanger, Newville, PA. Considered by the PC to be the “eleventh beneficiary”, Wilmer Newswanger has successfully launched a biodiesel project on his farm without SARE funds to support his startup costs. The Newswangers are a traditional Mennonite family and as such do not appear to be interested in government funded grants. However, Wilmer has long been friendly with the Wilson College and Dickinson College projects, having attended several biodiesel workshops over the past few years.

Wil Ar Farm is a diversified livestock operation. They raise a small herd of pasture fed dairy cows, make and sell their own raw milk cheese, and raise and process pastured chickens, turkeys, and pork on the farm as well. The farm is widely considered to be a model of sustainable livestock production in the area. While they do not drive motor vehicles, the family does have several pieces of diesel farm equipment.

In 2007, Wilmer visited the PC at the Dickinson biodiesel shop for a hands-on refresher course. Shortly thereafter he and his sons constructed an 80 gallon water heater based reactor. The PC worked with the Newswangers through their first batch of fuel, demonstrating proper chemical analysis and safety protocols. The PC continues to provide follow-up support in person and over the phone.

Wilmer Newswanger constructed an innovative wash/dry tank that uses a thin film of fuel falling across a solar heated surface to quickly dry the fuel with minimal energy input. Wilmer is limited only by the amount of fryer oil that he can collect close to home. He has processed several batches thus far and will restart his facility when the weather warms.

Research and development: The Best Practices Manual

Apart from serving as a consultant to farmer participants, the PC has been hard at work co-authoring and editing the Best Practices Manual for Small Scale Biodiesel Production. Matt Steiman and co-editor Lysa Holland, from the Penn State Environmental Health and Safety office have lead the team of authors in the quest for a comprehensive, accurate document. The goal of the Best Practices committee is to guide small producers toward safe, environmentally responsible production of high-quality biodiesel fuel. The group includes faculty and staff from Penn State departments including health and safety, agricultural sciences, chemical engineering, extension, and energy laboratories. Representatives from the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) provide regulatory insight, and the PC provides a small producer’s perspective and connections to the grassroots biodiesel community. The PC researched and authored several unique sections of the 50 page document, including introductory sections, cold weather issues, methanol recovery and methanol emissions reduction, byproduct disposal, straight vegetable oil conversions, process safety and step by step process descriptions, and diagrams.

An important goal of the Best Practices project has been to establish clear answers to the question, “What does a legal, safe, and responsible biodiesel operation look like?” Our goal has been to work with state regulators to answer previously vague questions regarding byproduct disposal, chemical use, and waste fryer oil handling. The PC organized a tour of the Dickinson College biodiesel shop for top officers from the PA DEP’s waste management central office. The has continued to solicit comments and clarification from these officials as the Best Practices Manual has undergone revisions. Our goal in working with top state administrators is twofold. First, we hope to establish a uniform interpretation of applicable regulations across the state. Secondly, we desire to demonstrate that small scale biodiesel producers can and do act responsibly.

In addition to the DEP, the PC has hosted local fire chiefs and waste water treatment plant personnel at the Dickinson College biodiesel shop. Comments and recommendations from these officials have helped to shape the Best Practices Manual, and build an awareness of safety into the PC’s approach to teaching biodiesel. The PC also met with several commercial biodiesel producers, and toured two commercial production facilities as a part of this research.

The Best Practices Manual is now complete, awaiting final touches from Penn State and DEP editors. Anyone wishing to view a draft of the document can email the PC at [email protected] or [email protected]. The full document will be available for free downloads from the www.wilson.edu/biodiesel website later this winter. A condensed version is currently online, linked at the bottom of www.wilson.edu/biodiesel.

Students from the Dickinson shop worked with the PC over the summer to produce a biodiesel safety video, including footage of processing gear in action. This brief DVD video is nearly complete, and will be made available online and by request later this winter.

Also under the banner of Best Practices, the PC and senior Dickinson biology student Alison Dethoff are collaborating on glycerol composting research. While the PA DEP has given tentative approval for on-farm composting of crude biodiesel glycerol AFTER methanol recovery, they have asked for further data supporting the notion that this is a safe and beneficial practice. A thorough literature search produced no results, and the research team later learned that they are among the first to tackle this question. The research goal is to determine whether crude biodiesel glycerol has any measurable impact on the biological community in the compost, the speed of composting, or on final compost quality. Ten experimental compost piles were built and monitored, with the only variable between the piles being the amount of glycerol added to a standardized mixture of cow manure and hay. This pilot study was conducted in the fall of 2007, and we are now awaiting the return of analytical data from Woods End Lab in Maine. Ms. Dethoff will repeat the study on a larger scale in the spring of 2008.

Outreach: The PC and assistants from the project conducted the following outreach events in 2007:

Introductory biodiesel workshop at the Future Harvest /CASA conference in Maryland, January 07.
Final farmers hands-on intensive workshop, Wilson College, April 07.
Howard County (MD) extension office renewable energy conference, introductory biodiesel lecture, May, 07.
Methanol recovery demonstration at Pogoil Farm workshop, May 07.
Organized two-day Introduction to Biodiesel intensive workshops and two-day Advanced Biodiesel workshop by Maria Alovert at Wilson College and Dickinson College, September 07.
Co-presented Introduction to Biodiesel with Preston Boop at PASA field day, Union County, PA, September 07.

The PC organized and will co-present Advanced Farmscale Biodiesel at a full-day preconference workshop for the 2008 PASA conference. The PC also arranged for Maria Alovert to give a two-day Introduction to Biodiesel (farm focused) to extension specialists and farmers at Penn State University on March 8-9, 2008


Brian Harris

[email protected]
Sunset Ridge Farm
RR # 1
193 Locust Dr
Milan, PA 18831
Office Phone: 5705963077
Mary Corboy

[email protected]
Greensgrow Farm
2503 E. Firth St
Philadelphia , PA 19125
Office Phone: 2154252702
Website: www.greensgrow.org
Ben McKean

[email protected]
Healthberry Farm
PO Box 40
Snyder Rd
Dry Fork, WV 26263
Office Phone: 3042274414
Charles Kolb

7127 Blacks Mill Rd
Thurmont , MD 21788
Office Phone: 3012712333
Kenneth Cummings

Rock Ridge Farm
6285 George Washington Hiway
Oakland, MD 21550
Office Phone: 3013348551
Jimmy Lee Bricker

[email protected]
Farmer / educator
945 South Caln Rd
Coatesville, PA 19320
Office Phone: 6103570375
Sebastian Kretschmer

[email protected]
Sankanac CSA
PO Box 1045
Kimberton, PA 19442
Office Phone: 6104957295
Ned Foley

[email protected]
Two Particular Acres
301 Rittenhouse Rd
Royersford, PA 19468
Office Phone: 6104549635
Phil Roth

[email protected]
223 Fairfield Station Rd
Fairfield, PA 17320
Attila Agoston

[email protected]
Mountain View Farm Blue Ridge Center
11661 Harpers Ferry Rd
Purcelville, VA 20132
Office Phone: 5406687640