Putting the biodiesel plant in the farmer’s hands

| Print |  Email
Archives - September 2006
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

Tackling the CEO-worker pay gap

January-Powerbook 2015
Thursday, December 11, 2014
BY OREGON BUSINESS STAFF

An SEC rule targets the disparity between executive and employee compensation, reigniting a long-standing debate about corporate social responsibility.


Read more...

See How They Run

January-Powerbook 2015
Friday, December 12, 2014
BY LINDA BAKER

Studying ground-running birds, a group that ranks among nature's speediest and most agile bipedal runners, to build a faster robot.


Read more...

Legislative Preview: A Shifting Balance

January-Powerbook 2015
Thursday, December 11, 2014
BY APRIL STREETER

Democratic gains pave the way for a revival of environment and labor bills as revenue reform languishes.


Read more...

Powerbook Perspective

January-Powerbook 2015
Friday, December 12, 2014
BY LINDA BAKER

A conversation with Oregon state economist Josh Lehner.


Read more...

A legislative preview — and celebration

News
Friday, January 23, 2015
012315-speaker-thumbBY LINDA BAKER | OB EDITOR

The Northwest Environmental Business Council previews the 2015 legislative agenda as Hatch Oregon celebrates Oregon's new community crowdfunding rules.


Read more...

Top stories in 2014

The Latest
Thursday, December 18, 2014
10-listthumb

2014 was a year of wild contradictions, fast-paced growth and unexpected revelations.


Read more...

The Carbon Calculus

February 2015
Friday, January 23, 2015
BY KIM MOORE | OB RESEARCH EDITOR

Carbon pricing is gaining momentum in Oregon, sparking concern for energy-intensive businesses — but also opportunity to expand a homespun green economy.


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