Friday, September 19, 2008

Overview Report

Members of the VBI google group can view a pdf of the VBI Overview Report here.

First, it begins with a description of the various aspects of the VBI system and biodiesel production. Then it moves to an analysis of the inputs and outputs of biodiesel production and the usage of byproducts. Next, there is a marginal cost analysis for the fuel and discussion of the inherent uncertainties in the calculations. Following that, a description of current biodiesel use on campus and the real world performance of the fuel. The last sections of the report focus on the environmental impact of the facility and system itself and examine the travel of the inputs.

Much of this information will be published on our website soon.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Greasin' up for the New School Year!

Classes started today! Campus has filled back up and our beautiful arboretum nestled in the center of Nashville is once again bursting with life. The summer lull was a productive time for the project and for those of us who stuck around to brave the heat. But with the return of old friends and the making of new ones, the fuel to propel us farther forward has finally arrived. We are anticipating the exciting semester and the promising year that lays ahead of us on our highway’s horizon!

The opening of “The Commons” meant that Vanderbilt kicked things off a little differently this year, with the Class of 2012 moving in one-week early and undergoing five days of on-campus orientation. Since community service is valued highly at our institution, all 1,600 freshmen dedicated one of their first days here volunteering for something, somewhere in the city. The event was called “Commodores in the Community” and VBI hosted two different groups on two consecutive days!

Since we view service as a labor of love, we used the opportunity to share with the incoming students some of the reasons ‘why-we-do-what-we-do’ instead of immediately putting them to work alongside us doing-what-we-do (it is...after all...a pretty dirty job!).

We began our day with an introductory power point presentation. We talked about how the nature of environmental problems has evolved and how consequently, methods for effectively addressing them have had to evolve too. We discussed the difference between “Environmental Sticks” (Regulations, Taxes, and Fines) and “Environmental Carrots” (Incentives and Rewards). And we told them about the “Environmental Carrot” that motivated us to get going (the MTV/GE EcoMagination Grant) and about how, despite not officially “winning” the contest, our university still supported us with the financial resources that we needed to bring our idea to life.

We then spilt up into two groups. The first group toured our campus’ coal fired power plant to help us illustrate the difference between “Point” and “Non-Point” pollution sources. We also thought that this was an important stop because the word “energy” gets thrown around a lot (especially lately!). It is commonly talked about as if it were one homogeneous thing and rarely does it actually get separated out into its various components. There is energy as it relates to fuels for transportation and then there is energy as it relates to electricity, cooling and heating. And fundamentally, the issues associated with each are very different but too often they are addressed in public discourse as if they were the same.

Meanwhile, the second group toured our shed before walking over to the Commons. We collect waste-veggie oil from their cafeteria and so we went “behind the scenes” to see where and how their food is prepared. We then spent time doing service; cleaning out our collection tanks which had, over time, accumulated a thick layer of food scraps. This had been making it hard for us to collect oil and so their greasy effort at the very dirty job was very much appreciated! After lunch the groups switched.

Afterwards, they happily washed their hands with eco-suds and then reflected on all they had learned from the day! What a great-greasy way to begin the new school year! Thanks for your help Class of 2012!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Sunday, July 20, 2008


-We bought a new centrifuge. It should be here soon, and the system will be ready to go again. Problems (balance) with the homebuilt one - still not completely by the wayside, but sidelined for now.

-The trailer rebuilt is finished. We took it out for a test run and it worked well. Much nicer not to have to deal with four separate tanks. Really nice job of it. The tote is contained on all four sides by unistrut. Derek put together a rain cover.

-We've been collecting oil and have enough to run two batches as soon as the centrifuge is installed. The picture is a closeup of the end of our oil collection wand. (window screen)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Trailer Revamp - in progress

The oil collection has a frame and cover to keep the rain and pine needles out of the secondary containment box. The four drums are replaced with a single tote (much simpler, and clear for visibility). This has the nice side effect of increasing the capacity from 200 to 250 gallons.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Hot, hot, Nashville

Things are slow in the heat of the summer. The new centrifuge is being built, the oil collection trailer is being modified, and there's no batch in the works in the shed. This lull means it is a good week for research.

Vandy Biodiesel just welcomed Fido, a coffeeshop in Hillsboro Village, as a new oil source. (Thanks Gabby and Matt!) By choosing to let us recycle their waste veggie oil into biodiesel, they're helping create a fuel with significantly lower emissions for everything except maybe NOx, and no sulfur. And since we pickup from area restaurants the WVO doesn't travel nearly as far as when it's picked up by anyone else.

Coming soon: a list of area restaurants/businesses that let us pickup their waste veggie oil. Just in case you want to patronize places that are making some change.

Technical centrifuge related details, for those interested: We had two pressure driven oil centrifuges which worked well through the winter. The summer heat again came into the equation, making the biodiesel so thin that the centrifuges didn't have enough pressure to spin properly. We're in the process of homebuilding a larger mechanical centrifuge.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

VBI at Summer Soulstice Jam

Vanderbilt Biodiesel folks will be heading down to Limelight at 9pm this Friday (June 22nd) for the Summer Soulstice Jam. Greener Nashville invited us to bring out the van and a banner and maybe some soap and tell people about the project.

And we'd like to invite you to join us, if you're in the mood for some music and free Friday night. We can even offer you a ride downtown from campus.

Updates first half of 2008

Hello all! Much has happened since our last update!

Biodiesel production to date is nearly 1000 gallons. Most of this was used by the Wilderness Skills Course and Plant Operations here at Vanderbilt. We've been collecting the waste vegetable oil from our campus cafeterias and area restaurants. This means we've kept about 1000 gallons of waste product from having to be picked up and trucked to some far away location to be turned into things like animal feed supplements and lotions. (Not to mention cutting emissions in the vehicles that used the fuel!)

There's a lot going on here this summer - a lot of changes in the shed to improve the system. A custom built centrifuge is in the works, the homemade condenser was moved closer to improve methanol reclamation, some new hoses, some new plumbing, etc. Another project involves revamping the oil collection trailer to switch from 4 blue 55-gallon barrels to a 250 gallon tote - moving towards simplicity.

assorted golden liquids

Research on a dilute-acid esterification pre-step for poor quality oil is underway. Derek tested it recently with almost milky bad oil and got a good yield. Eliot is working on an acid purification of the glycerin byproduct. Amelia is spending the summer working on a life cycle analysis/environmental impact assessment type report for the project. And many others continue to do great work.

If you're interested and you'd like to get involved, join the biodiesel list serve or email us. There are almost limitless possibilities as far as what you can do - oil collection, soap, marketing, etc. (Follow that link to the get involved page to see more.)