New Biodiesel Fueling Station

Undertaken by 4th year engineering students Patrick Wong and John Yuen, the new, the new fueling station allows for “blend on demand” fueling. The customer sets the desired biodiesel blend from B5 to B100 and when finished fueling  the new system will print a receipt for the fuel purchased, with separate prices for petro and biodiesel fuels set by the system operator. The new system also increases the storage capacity of fuel to 400L. Continue reading “New Biodiesel Fueling Station”

More Biodiesel Sales!!

UBC Housing and Hospitality Services has purchased their second tank of CHBE Biodiesel. Their delivery truck was filled with 100L of B20 produced by members of the CHBE Sustainability Club. To date the Biodiesel project has sold 300L of blended fuel.
The operators tols us that they “have experienced zero problems thus far” running the truck off its previous fill up of 140L of B20 in the fall of 2012.  We look forward to the next fill up in our ongoing partnership with Housing and Hospatality services.

CHBE Biodiesel on the Road


Biodiesel produced by the CHBE Sustainability Club was put into the tank of the UBC Housing and Hospitality Services truck today. This is an important milestone in the most recent incarnation of the UBC biodiesel project that the fuel has been put to use in a UBC vehicle.

The truck was filled up with 150L of B20 (20% biodiesel) produced in the Chemical and Biological Engineering department by a team of undergraduate and graduate student volunteers. The biodiesel was produced through the transesterification process from fresh vegetable oil donated by Allied Reclamation Services that was damaged in shipping and unfit for human consumption.The next phase of the project will see students producing biodiesel from waste vegetable oil from the Totem residence cafeteria. This will close the loop of waste-to-fuel on the UBC campus.

The Club thanks Housing and Hospitality Services for their continued support and looks forward to fueling more of UBC in the future.

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.

The Biodiesel Project

Wiring box for the biodiesel reactor

Wiring box for the biodiesel reactorWe’ve been working on the Biodiesel Project for a while, but haven’t said much about it here. No longer! Now you can visit the new Biodiesel Project page for information and updates.

Lots of exciting work has been going on to revamp the legacy reactors and AMS Sustainability has helped out by providing funding to hire two summer students. Standardization of quality testing procedures has begun, and an appropriate fuel dispenser has been found for our future fuelling site in the CHBE yard.

Exciting times!