John Robinson at The Wall Hour

Professor John Robinson, UBC Associate Provost, Sustainability, will be speaking at the Peter Wall Institute’s free lunch & talk, co-sponsored by the Pacific Institute for Climate solutions. Here’s the deets:

Date: Thursday, October 4, 2012
Time: 12:30pm – 1:30pm
Place: Center for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS)
RSVP: RSVP@pwias.ubc.ca 

Weekly Meetings

If anyone’s curious about our little club, come to a meeting! We’re going to be meeting weekly:

When: 4pm Wednesdays
Where: CHBE 204 or nearby

We’re going to try and do something fun like a movie or tour every other week, starting on the 26th. We’ll be watching Revenge of the Electric Car and have some popcorn. Come chat with us!

Splash Blending!

Tyler Wood mixing up B20 blend in the fueling station

We’re ready to sell to our first customer. As soon as Student Housing and Hospitality Services has an empty tank, we’ll to fill it up with our B20 blend. We haven’t got a sophisticated blending facility. We just pour the right volume of regular diesel into our tank and circulate it for a while to make sure it’s blended well.

Waste Management

A batch of biodiesel that has too much water in it becomes a soapy, spoiled wreck, and isn’t much use to anyone. Past experience dealing with spoiled biodiesel has gone like this:

  • Grumbling
  • Resignation
  • Pouring the soapy mess back into the containers that held the vegetable oil it was made from
  • Attaching blue “Flammable Liquid Disposal” tags with barcodes that indicate that the Biodiesel Project is responsible
  • Hauling the containers down to CHBE Stores, from whence they vanish to Parts Unknown.

Well, where do those containers end up? I decided to find out. I asked the friendly stores clerk, and discovered that chemical wastes on campus are generally dealt with by the Environmental Services Facility (ESF), run by UBC Risk Management. A couple emails later, and I was biking down to the farthest southern part of campus.

The Environmental Services Facility entrance on Nurseries Road.

I thought I was lost, but like the Wizard of Oz, the ESF is just at the end of the road. At the gate, I was met by Mr. Bang Dang and Mr. Valery Kichenko, technicians at the ESF. They gave me a nice tour, demonstrating how they safely collect and dispose of the chemical and biological wastes generated by UBC.

Now that we know what happens to a bad batch of biodiesel, we’ll be accumulating it in a drum, rather than multiple smaller containers. This gives us the chance to re-process it into better biodiesel, along with requiring less packaging if we have to dispose of it.

Thank you Bang and Valeriy for the tour, and for all your hard work in safely dealing with and reducing UBC’s chemical waste.

Pump & Quality Testing

Biodiesel Project Chief James Butler just inadvertently learned how to purge the new fuel filter, and has some clean up to do.

A long-term goal for the Biodiesel Project is to sustain itself financially by selling biodiesel. If we’re going to sell our biodiesel, we need a high-quality product, and we should be able to deliver it safely and consistently. Accordingly, we’ve been developing procedures for testing and delivering our product.

Running a miniature fuel station isn’t something we’re embarking on lightly. There’s a lot of regulations to comply with, and many authorities who might complain that they haven’t approved our project. Keeping track of all the documentation is a challenge just by itself.

ASTM International defines the D6751 biodiesel standard and this is the benchmark we measure our products against. It takes a lot of lab work to test a batch of biodiesel, to see if it meets the standard. Have a look at some of the instruments we use:

Wrestling Barrels

If we’re going to make biodiesel, we’d better have some plan to use it! What do you put biodiesel in? Engines! What do engines live in? Trucks! So we need a good way to get our fuel into trucks.

This week, we suited up in our PPE and spent a day wrestling barrels in CHBE’s outdoor storage cage, clearing a space for our biodiesel dispensing rig. A big thank you goes to Ivan Leversage, for letting us help him sort the place out and then claim a bit of space. The storage cage is really a sort of interesting history of the department, we found one bucket dating from 1999, which pre-dates the existence of both the cage and the building it’s next to!

Another good find while wrestling with the mess was two drums of methanol, which I discovered were donated to the Biodiesel Project in a previous phase of the project. Thanks, Methanex! We’ll put it to good use.

Weekly Biodiesel Update

Professor John Robinson speaks at the Green Research Workshop

We made good progress at the Biodiesel Project last week. Greg has made good progress on the electrical side of the plant, and we’re approaching recommissioning with our fingers crossed.

The Project has suffered from being handed from student to student in the past. A new internal wiki will help smooth future hand-offs while standardizing our operating procedures and quality testing. In that vein, quality testing has been helped out by the arrival of a new viscometer, saving us trips to the undergraduate lab.

Last week also contained Green Research Workshop 2012, put on by Risk Management Services, the Sustainability Initiative and Supply Management. The Biodiesel Project came out and made contact with some lovely people. There were interesting and engaging talks about UBC’s new biomass heat and power plant, where UBC’s recycled plastics go, and more over the course of the day.

Particularly inspiring was Professor John Robinson’s keynote. Dr. Robinson is the Executive Director of UBC’s Sustainability Initiative. He spoke about universities’ unique ability to foster sustainable practices both on-campus and as agents of change in the larger community. He outlined UBC’s progress towards its greenhouse gas emissions goals, and noted how transformational it was to think of the entire university budget as a sustainability fund, rather than merely portioning out a fund for feel-good projects. I learned that the new biomass plant and the replacement of the campus steam system with a new hot-water system makes a substantial dent in the greenhouse gas emissions, and I was left inspired and proud to be a student at such a forward-thinking institution.

It’s a good workshop. Make sure you go next year!

(There might even be free lunch!)

Recovery Refurbishment

After Replacing Methanol Collector

Before and after photos!

The big pink and metal thing was our old recovered methanol storage unit. It’s been replaced with the much less-bulky unit that you can see hanging on the side of the plant cage. Now, there’s a lot more room inside the plant cage for us work and perhaps to add a translucent settling and storage tank.

We currently settle and wash the transesterification mixture in the reactor, which we think has a hemispherical bottom. Because we can’t see inside the reactor, we have to guess when the biodiesel has separated from the wash or by-product layer. Similarly, we can’t tell when the wash or by-product layer is out of the reactor until we see biodiesel run out. This takes a lot of time and wastes good biodiesel. A translucent cone-bottom tank for settling will help solve these problems for us, and give us a better place to store our product than in the bunch of buckets we keep it in now.