Biodiesel Fuel Education Program Thu, 10 Sep 2015 20:49:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Virtual Tour: Renewable Diesel Reactor Tue, 26 Feb 2013 21:51:06 +0000 [...]]]> With a name like the National Biodiesel Education Program, it’s easy to assume we only research biodiesel.  While biodiesel education is our emphasis, we experiment with other biofuels as well, such as Renewable Diesel, also known as “Green Diesel”. 

In this episode of our Virtual Tour series, take a look at our continuous flow reactor, used to make Renewable Diesel from vegetable oil or animal fat.

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Virtual Tour: The Biodiesel Rancimat Thu, 14 Feb 2013 18:25:10 +0000 [...]]]> The Biodiesel Rancimat can measure the rate of oxidation of your finished biodiesel to determine the Oxidative Stability Index of a biodiesel sample. This is important to determine if your biodiesel requires oxidation agents to maximize shelf life. We’re also using this piece of equipment in our spontaneous combustion experiments to tell us the level of oxidation of the biodiesel we use in the trial experiments.

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BAE Research Innovations Thu, 31 Jan 2013 17:32:40 +0000 [...]]]> Tushar Jain’s Bead Fermentation Method

Tushar Jain and Josh Riley present the bead fermentation technology at the VIEW Business Plan Competition.

When Tushar Jain, who had designed biodiesel plants in his home country of India, heard that the University of Idaho Biological and Agricultural Engineering Department decided to diversify its research into biofuels like lignocellulosic ethanol, he chose to join the BAE graduate program.  As part of a project funded by the Idaho National Laboratory, Center of Advanced Energy Studies, Tushar’s graduate research was in lignocellulosic ethanol production, using plant and woody fibrous material to create ethanol.

Part of Tushar’s research involved fermentation of sugars produced from woody material.  During a discussion of fermentation methods, another student in his department shared his experience with the Brazilian fermentation method for producing ethanol, which uses a high amount of yeast.  When they tried to implement this method in Tushar’s research, the result was a foamy, frothy gas bubbling mess.  This same student pointed to the foam and said, “Tushar, fix that foaming problem, and you’ll revolutionize the industry”.

This method of fermentation was called the Melle-Boinot method of fermentation, and is considered the industry standard in Brazil for producing ethanol from sugar.  The Melle-Boinot method of fermentation was revolutionary, cutting hours off the fermentation time of traditional methods.  But, it has inherent problems that require costly solutions in the industry – most notably, the need for expensive anti-foaming agents; a centrifuge to separate the yeast from the liquid; and cooling equipment to deal with the high heat generated.

Tushar, who recently received his PhD at the university, has succeeded in the first task, producing a method of alcohol fermentation that doesn’t require foaming agents; can be easily separated from the liquid for reuse; require no nutrients; and, as a bonus, increases ethanol yield by five percent.   He did this by manufacturing a small bead, derived from yeast and enzymes, which quietly ferments sugars and carbohydrates creating alcohol and carbon dioxide.  This project received a Higher Education Research Council GAP funding award of $45,000 to further the commercialization of this research innovation.

Josh Riley and Tushar Jain win the VIEW Business Plan Competition.

The University of Idaho is in the process of patenting this fermentation method, and will license the patent to Tushar.  He and his business partner Josh Riley, University of Idaho business graduate have started a company, MuPor Technologies , to market and sell these beads to ethanol and alcohol beverage producers.  Tushar and Josh have won both university and state business plan competitions for their new startup.

The following video shows Tushar Jain’s revolutionary fermentation method in action.

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Virtual Tour: Biodiesel Production Scale Model Tue, 29 Jan 2013 22:37:20 +0000 View our biodiesel production continuous flow scale model in action, courtesy of the University of Idaho Biodiesel Education Program.  This is simply an educational tool to demonstrate the steps in a biodiesel production system. 

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Virtual Tour: Oil Seed Press Tue, 29 Jan 2013 22:10:34 +0000 [...]]]> As part of our virtual tour of the Biodiesel Education Program’s farm scale biodiesel production facility, we’d like to introduce you to our oil seed presses. 

These presses were made by Hander, a Japanese company, and the model is CeCoco new Type 52 press.  The largest of the two is a model NewType 52, offering  45 kgs , or 100lbs an hour throughput. 

These oil seed presses were donated to the University of Idaho in the 1980’s by George Brocke, of George F. Brocke and Sons, Inc., a long time agricultural business located in Kendrick, Idaho.  Our thanks to them!

Watch how we use these presses to get the feedstock (oil) for the biodiesel we make at the University of Idaho. 

And read more about mechanical extraction of oil feedstock at

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How We Make Biodiesel Tue, 29 Jan 2013 19:03:07 +0000 [...]]]>

(transcript of  the video)

The original diesel engine, named after inventor Rudolf Diesel, actually ran on vegetable oil.  Changes in the design of diesel engines over the years required a different fuel… with more energy output and less gelling in colder weather than vegetable oil… hence, petroleum based diesel gained popularity over oil.  The number one environmental concern about diesel fuel is it emits harmful pollutants into the air.

Biodiesel is a replacement fuel for diesel engines made out of animal fats or vegetable oil.  The advantages of Biodiesel are that it is not derived from fossil fuels, but can be made from local crops; it lowers greenhouse gas emissions, and the production and sale of biodiesel generates a domestic fuel economy.  The University of Idaho is one of the pioneers of biodiesel research, having over 30 years of experience working with biodiesel fuel.

At the University of Idaho Biodiesel Education Program farm scale production facility we make biodiesel from a variety of feedstock.  Most of the time we either make biodiesel from waste vegetable oil gathered from the Sodexo kitchens at the university, or we extract the oil ourselves with our seed oil press.  Let’s take a moment to examine our standard recipe for making smaller batches of biodiesel.

This is production specialist Joe Thompson, your biodiesel chef for the day.

To make biodiesel you remove the impurities of the fat or oil and change its viscosity so that it can burn in a normal diesel engine without mucking up the fuel lines.  You do that through a chemical reaction called transesterification.  Transesterification IS the biodiesel making process, and is simply a reaction of the vegetable oil and alcohol using a catalyst to speed the reaction.

The process is relatively simple.

Add a certain amount of alcohol to your catalyst, combine the mixture with your feedstock, then heat and agitate for a short period of time.  The result is a layer of biodiesel and a layer of glycerin.  Remove the glycerin by draining it off the bottom, and then use a wash process to remove contaminants. For all intents and purposes, you have biodiesel.  The co-product, glycerin, has a lot of other uses, like making soap, but that’s another topic.

Our method of making biodiesel is a two-reaction process… meaning we perform these steps twice.

First, we want to make sure our feedstock is suitable for making quality biodiesel.  That means we want fats or oils with a low free fatty acid content of the feedstock oil.  Waste oil can be high in free fatty acids, while freshly pressed Canola oil, for instance, is very low in FFA content and makes an ideal feedstock for biodiesel.   The more FFA in the biodiesel, the more catalyst you must use and the more soap you’ll have to clean out of your finished biodiesel.

Second, we create a mixture of methanol with a catalyst, like sodium methylate. The catalyst can burn the skin, and methanol vapors are harmful to breathe and flammable, so the use of either requires safety precautions.

We only add 80% of the alcohol/catalyst mixture for the first reaction; heat the entire mixture and agitate.  We’re using a heat regulation unit with a thermocouple, and are agitating the mix with a paint paddle on a heavy duty drill stand.

After an hour, we let the product sit for about 30 minutes.  The heavier glycerin settles to the bottom.  We drain off as much as we can, add the remaining 20% catalyst mixture, heat and agitate again.  Once the second reaction is finished and the glycerin has settled, we drain off the glycerin co-product.

The remaining liquid is biodiesel.  However, it still has some excess methanol, catalyst and other impurities mixed in.  There are several wash methods, but we prefer to use a dry-wash method, filtering the biodiesel through ion-exchange beads.

The finished biodiesel is a high quality fuel ready to use in any diesel engine.

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A Renewable Future – Carlo Munoz of Blume Distillations, Santa Cruz, CA Tue, 11 Dec 2012 17:49:32 +0000 [...]]]> GRADUATE JOB WATCH

The Graduate Job Watch is a blog series dedicated to our successfully employed University of Idaho Biological and Agricultural Engineering graduates.

 A Renewable Future – Carlo Munoz of Blume Distillations, Santa Cruz, CA

Several years ago, Carlo Munoz manufactured biodiesel fuel in his home town of Guadalajara, Mexico.  “But the biodiesel was not very good quality,” Carlo admits.  In fact, he was mucking up a lot of diesel engines trying to refine his methods. 

Carlo had plans to design and build small-scale biodiesel production reactors to sell to the general public, but needed to fine tune his understanding of the process.  He chose to study at a university that helped pioneer biodiesel research and education; The University of Idaho.  Carlo sought his Master of Sciences degree in the Biological and Agricultural Engineering department, and recently defended his thesis on how to convert biomass to renewable diesel, a new but unproven diesel alternative offering more energy output than biodiesel. 

Always an “out of the box” thinker, Carlo enjoys the experimentation side of biofuel research.  In fact, while at the university he literally took a pizza “out of the box” and successfully converted it to ethanol fuel.  He has a small container of “Pizza Fuel” to prove it. 

Carlo believes that the opportunity to study with “the great ones, Dr. Joe Thompson and Dr. Jon van Gerpen,” at the university was one of the best experiences of his life.  He uses this knowledge every day in his new job working for Blume Distillation, LLC; an up-and-coming biofuel distillation systems manufacturer.  From their Santa Cruz, California facilities, Blume Distillation creates “appropriate-scale” ethanol production systems for farmers, municipalities and other small to medium scale bio-ethanol producers.

In the following video, Carlo describes his research and job related experienced he received at the University of Idaho.





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A New Paradigm in Lifecycle Analysis Mon, 22 Oct 2012 17:41:28 +0000 [...]]]> Dr. Dev Shrestha, a bioenergy specialist in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering at the University of Idaho, is one of 15 researchers and biofuel industry professionals across the nation who participated in the beta test of the newly developed software at Argonne National Laboratory from DOE. advances the traditional “GREET” Model (Greenhouse Gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy Use in Transportation) which is essentially an Excel based spreadsheet model.

The new system allows drag and drop of the system components to create a system model. The software then pulls the relevant database to estimate environmental performance. The new software went away from using excel spreadsheet as its underlying database and used XML language instead. The software can be used to perform life cycle analysis of other than fuel products but currently the database available currently emphasizes fuel production to final use of fuel by a vehicle or commonly known as well-to-wheel analysis. Shrestha sees as a tool that will be widely used in life cycle community because of its simplicity yet powerful interface. GREET lifecycle analysis is great news for biodiesel producers who could potentially use the software to submit a lifecycle analysis for RIN distribution.

Check out for more information.

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Spontaneous Combustion Mon, 01 Oct 2012 23:40:09 +0000 [...]]]> Spontaneous combustionHere is a before-and-after shot of a spontaneous combustion experiment we have been conducting. Spontaneous combustion can be a problem in biodiesel plants, where rags or sawdust soaked in biodiesel or oil can spontaneously ignite, causing serious fires. We want to know: under what circumstances will material soaked in biodiesel or oil spontaneously ignite? The mesh enclosure on the right contained sawdust soaked in boiled linseed oil (which tends to oxidize rapidly) and biodiesel. This was left out in the sun for five hours, and reached an internal temperature of 300 degrees C. It burned sometime during the night. Our experiments continue. For more information, contact Joe Thompson at


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Graduate Job Watch – Tony Pastrama Mon, 01 Oct 2012 19:00:09 +0000 [...]]]> We’re always proud when a University of Idaho graduate lands a great job in the biodiesel industry. The National Biodiesel Board estimates that the biodiesel industry was responsible for 39,000 jobs in 2011, generating over 2 billion dollars in household income. The NBB projects a growth of over 11,000 more jobs through 2013. For a growth industry in a struggling economy – there are over 200 production facilities in the U.S. alone – those numbers are very promising.

Quality is Job One! – Tony Pastrama of Greenleaf BioFuels, New Haven, CT 

Tony PastramaTony Pastrama, a recent graduate of the University of Idaho’s Professional Science Master’s Program is now the Quality Assurance Manager for Greenleaf Biofuels, a provider of renewable energy alternatives. Greenleaf Biofuels, based in New Haven, Connecticut, was one of the first distributors of biodiesel in New England, and is now the largest biodiesel producer. Tony oversees Research and Development and ensures system compliance with all ASTM biofuel production standards.

Tony earned a Master of Sciences degree with an emphasis in Environmental Contamination & Bioenergy Research at the University of Idaho.

Aside from his academic achievement, Tony was a research assistant with the Biodiesel Education Program. His work there involved helping to build a methanol recovery system; a biodiesel fueled delivery truck for the Upward Bound program; as well as countless other projects. His experience with the Biodiesel Education Program translated well to his new position with Greenleaf Biofuels.

“I worked with leaders in the academic community regarding biodiesel research,” Tony reflects. “It made me a lot more confident when jumping into this position, and helped me know what to expect.”

As a M.S. student with the Environmental Sciences Program, Tony’s graduate project involved a complete production analysis of a new biodiesel plant while under construction in Bonners Ferry, Idaho. Working with Professor Jon Van Gerpen and Dr. Joe Thompson of the Biodiesel Education Program, Tony helped design an ion exchange system for the plant to filter out contaminants. He also provided consulting services for production facilities in Atlanta, Ghana and Hawaii.

Tony credits this real-world experience working with the Biodiesel Education Program, as well as the support and education he received at the University of Idaho for playing a major role in making him an attractive candidate for Greenleaf Biofuels.

“It gave me the skill set and tools I needed to jump out and obtain employment in this growth industry,” said Tony. “That definitely gave me great experience to work on other processes and biodiesel analysis in the lab.”

The future looks bright for this UI graduate; he jumped in on the ground floor of an up-and-coming company with big plans. Greenleaf Biofuels expects to produce 10 million gallons of biodiesel starting in October of 2012, and projects to double their production capacity within the next three years.

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