Biomass conference panel explores biodiesel from waste and low-value feedstocks

By Ron Kotrba
Posted September 7, 2010 at 4:48 p.m.

Over the past couple of years the biodiesel industry has trended toward utilizing fewer virgin oils, largely due to economic factors such as dependence on more expensive refined materials and reliance on low-value waste oils such as used cooking oil. Interest in securing and processing even lower-valued materials, such as trap grease and sewer grease, is also on the rise. BBI International's Southeast Biomass Conference & Trade Show,Nov. 2-4 in Atlanta, will feature a panel on this very topic, titled, "Biodiesel from Waste and Low-Value Feedstocks."

Christina Borgese, president of PreProcess Inc., a company that focuses on scaling up alternative energy systems from bench- to commercial-scale, will present on converting problematic feedstock such as sewer sludge into process-ready feedstock for biodiesel production. Borgese, who comes from last year's World Economic Forum winner BioFuelBox, said much discussion in the arena of low-value feedstock centers on conversion technology rather than feedstock pretreatment, economic separation and overall cost reduction associated with an undesirable feedstock. "We focus on a heated, intensified, layered approach," she said of PreProcess' separation technique. Borgese will cover the engineering and economics of grease separation, including what has been done in the past, what is on the table at present, and what the future may hold.

Frank Yeboah, an assistant professor with North Carolina Agriculture and Technical University, will discuss his three-year biodiesel project with the U.S. Department of Defense. "We look to develop a simple computer model" that speaks to the economic viability of producing biodiesel from waste materials generated on military bases, such as used cooking oil from canteens, he said. The computer model will also generate information on how much petroleum the military can displace from such activities, in addition to the environmental (i.e., greenhouse gas emissions reductions, etc.) and energy security benefits offered. Yeboah is in year two of the three-year DOD project and anticipates having the very latest data from the project to share with the audience in Atlanta.

Ming Chai, a Ph.D. student at the University of Cincinnati, is also speaking on the biodiesel panel. Chai will discuss his collaboration with Bluegrass Biodiesel out of Falmouth, Ky., and plans to delve into the particulars of kinematics and acid-catalyzed esterification of free fatty acids. Chai will focus on issues associated with biodiesel conversion of used cooking oil and animal fat feedstock, in addition to trap grease, and will relay to the audience insights from his research.

Brandon Spence, CEO of the Winnsboro, S.C.-based Midlands Biofuels, a 300,000 gallon per year community-scale biodiesel plant, will round out the biodiesel panel in Atlanta by discussing plant operations using waste vegetable oil, and the new Southern Fried Fuels initiative that Midlands Biofuels recently kicked off. The initiative offers individuals a place to dispose of their used fryer grease instead of dumping it down the drain or throwing it away where it goes to landfills. Midlands Biofuels will pick up the used oil from the drop-off center at the city of Columbia's Public Works Facility, and haul the material to its Winnsboro-based methyl ester plant for conversion to quality biodiesel.

Ron Kotrba, editor of Biodiesel Magazine and BBI's new monthly publication, Biorefining, will moderate the panel.

To register for the Southeast Biomass Conference & Trade Show in Atlanta Nov. 2-4, click here.