Putting the biodiesel plant in the farmer’s hands

| Print |  Email
Friday, September 01, 2006
{safe_alt_text}

THE SITUATION

Crops to fuel biodiesel are being raised in Eastern Oregon, but there are no biodiesel production plants east of the Cascades and scant supplies at the pump. Meanwhile, farmers running diesel pickups and tractors are prime potential consumers of home-grown fuel.

THE NEW TECHNOLOGY
Oregon State University professor Goran Jovanovic has created a credit card-sized biodiesel reactor that takes in canola oil and alcohol and, using a catalyst in tiny microchannels, produces biodiesel. In Wallowa County, Ethical Energy, co-founded by Rick Weatherspoon and Gloria Garvin, is one of several groups negotiating to buy Jovanovic’s technology and use it at the center of a biodiesel system they’d peddle to rural farmers. Ethical Energy would aggregate hundreds of thousands of the cards into a mini-biodiesel production unit the size of a suitcase. Farmers or communities with access to canola, sunflower or other seed crops would crush the seeds and then feed the oil into the suitcase processing unit to produce enough biodiesel to fill their gas tank or a storage tank in their barns or pickups.

DOES IT HAVE JUICE?
So far, Jovanovic has only produced a test-tube worth of biodiesel. But his idea has disruptive technology written all over it. The micro-scale reactor promises major efficiencies over industrial-scale biodiesel plants. If someone can turn it into a usable, personal scale production unit, it could change the way we produce fuel by putting the end user in control. Garvin and Weatherspoon, who is a former engineer for defense contractors and an Enterprise native, want to nail that killer app. Wallowa County will be their proving ground. They are testing high-oil-content sunflowers on a 40-acre plot in Imnaha, while machinists look at materials to construct the suitcase unit, a local oil company studies how to winterize the biodiesel and Weatherspoon looks into manufacturing the units in the county. “I’m trying to create a little industry at the end of the road here,” says Weatherspoon, who drives a ’99 Dodge Cummins diesel pickup himself. “It’s not a slam dunk. But we’re just gonna do it and see if it works.” Venture capitalists, including OVP Venture Partners’ David Chen, have shown interest in Jovanovic’s mini processor. Jovanovic still needs to find a benign solid catalyst to replace the liquid sodium hydroxide — a legally controlled substance — that he’s currently using.

And should Weatherspoon get a license for the technology, he needs
to cross a first production hurdle with a prototype of the suitcase unit in the next nine months to fuel the test vehicle — his pickup.

— Oakley Brooks


Have an opinion? E-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

More Articles

Oregon needs a Grand Bargain energy plan

Linda Baker
Monday, June 22, 2015
0622-gastaxblogthumbBY LINDA BAKER

The Clean Fuels/gas tax trade off will go down in history as another disjointed, on-again off-again approach to city and state lawmaking.


Read more...

Up in the Air

June 2015
Friday, May 22, 2015
BY ANNIE ELLISON

Portland tech veteran Ben Berry is leaving his post as Portland’s chief technology officer for a full-time role producing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) aimed at first responders and the military. Berry’s AirShip Technologies Group is poised to be on the ground floor of an industry that will supply drones to as many as 100,000 police, fire and emergency agencies nationwide. He reveals the plan for takeoff.


Read more...

Downtime with John Helmick

June 2015
Tuesday, May 26, 2015
BY JACOB PALMER

Live, Work, Play: CEO of Gorilla Capital.


Read more...

Credit Unions Perspective

June 2015
Tuesday, May 26, 2015
BY KIM MOORE

A conversation with Gene Pelham, CEO of Rogue Credit Union.


Read more...

Efficiency Boost

June 2015
Friday, May 22, 2015
BY JOE CORTRIGHT

How conservation stimulates the local economy.


Read more...

The ancient fish that stops bullets

The Latest
Friday, May 08, 2015
hagfishthumbBY CHRIS NOBLE | PHOTOS BY JASON E. KAPLAN

Hagfish may not have evolved much over the last 300 million years, but their protein-heavy slime promises advances in super-materials.


Read more...

The 5 highest revenue-generating parks in Oregon

The Latest
Thursday, June 11, 2015
parksthumbBY JACOB PALMER | DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

In 2014, total revenue for camping and day use in Oregon State Parks was a little more than $17 million. That figure may even higher this year "because we've had exceptionally nice weather," Hughes says.


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS