BY ANN McCREARY
Operating in a small shed on the TwispWorks campus, Nick Allgood’s small biodiesel manufacturing facility is producing its first fuel.
Allgood began his venture a couple of years ago when a book about making biodiesel caught his eye. He bought the book and not long after, he saw a local advertisement for a biodiesel processor. He decided to spend the $2,500 to purchase the equipment, which includes two large tanks, hoses, pumps and chemicals needed to convert used cooking oil into fuel.
Last week Allgood, a Winthrop resident, produced his first full batch of biodiesel. He is able to make about 100 gallons at a time, which he initially plans to use to run his diesel truck.
Allgood makes his fuel by converting used cooking oil through a chemical process into biodiesel. He has a supply of used cooking oil that he was given when he bought the equipment, and recently began collecting used oil from Arrowleaf Bistro and the Old Schoolhouse Brewery in Winthrop.
“It’s a fun science project. It will be great to produce our own fuel,” Allgood said.
The biodiesel project is a benefit for the restaurant owners as well, said Jon Brown, chef at Arrowleaf Bistro. Used cooking oil is not supposed to be thrown in the garbage, and definitely not poured down the drain where it clogs pipes. So having it picked up for use by a local resident means restaurants don’t have to make other arrangements to dispose of the oil.
“If all it takes is letting him take my garbage, it’s a win-win situation,” Brown said.
It took Allgood some time and effort to get to the point of actually making his first batch of biodiesel. He first needed permission to make biodiesel from Twisp town officials, who wanted reassurance that the process would not create a fire hazard, or emit unpleasant odors.
“They were worried about fumes, like it was going to smell like a McDonalds,” Allgood said.
Assured that neither fire nor fumes were an issue, the town stipulated that Allgood could produce up to 100 gallons a week, but he would not be allowed to sell the product from the TwispWorks location.
Allgood also needed to buy insurance, which turned out to be more complicated than he expected, Allgood said, “because there’s not a category in most insurance companies for biodiesel. They put me under fuel and oil production.” When his insurance policy took effect a couple of weeks ago, Allgood was ready to start producing fuel.
The used cooking oil is poured into a 100-gallon tank, where it is heated to about 130 degrees. In a separate 22-gallon tank Allgood mixes methanol and sodium hydroxide, and then pumps the mixture it into the tank with the oil. The chemicals separate out fatty lipids, which settle to the bottom of the tank as glycerin, and the reminder of the liquid is biodiesel.
The methanol, a toxic substance, is then distilled out and can be reused, Allgood said.
Allgood expects to make about 100 gallons a week to fuel his truck. He and his partner, Elana Mainer, plan to replace their other car with a diesel vehicle so Allgood can provide fuel for that as well.
In the future, he’d like to be able to provide fuel to local farmers or building contractors for diesel vehicles and equipment.
The biodiesel project could become an educational opportunity as well, said Allgood, who works as coordinator of the after-school program at Methow Valley Elementary School and college adviser at Liberty Bell High School.
“Maybe high school kids could learn to make their own fuel, or we could have classes at TwispWorks,” Allgood said. “I would like to make it more educational than profitable.”