Bio-diesel may be farm fuel of future

Electric vehicles are one way of providing transportation for the general public and in an urban setting they can provide an almost perfect means of intercity travel.

Electric vehicles are one way of providing transportation for the general public and in an urban setting they can provide an almost perfect means of intercity travel.

Rural areas can also use electric vehicles.

However, remoteness and the sheer power required for some of the primary tasks that must be performed on a farm eliminate the EV right from the get go.

The diesel engine is in wide use today largely due to its power characteristics. High torque-rise diesel engines are required for the heavy loads handled by tractors and big trucks.

Batteries, at their current level of technology, cannot sustain the energy requirements needed for the work these machines are designed to accomplish.

Enter bio-diesel.

Produced with the assistance of solar thermal heat, bio-diesel provides the storable energy required to get the heavy lifting of agriculture and highway done using a sustainable source of fuel.

Solar energy is being used by a plant in California to provide the heating for production of a bio-diesel fuel known as B100.

The production of this bio-diesel starts with canola.

That bright yellow flowering crop that seems to surround rural inhabitants during the summer growing season is hauled into the plant, cleaned, crushed, filtered and heated to 85C (185F).

Then it’s pumped into a reactor, mixed with 12 per cent ethanol and 1.2 per cent sodium methylate (a catalyst), and agitated under pressure while it continues to be heated.

In 30 minutes, the reactor provides the chemical magic required to turn canola oil into a usable engine fuel.

Once the process is completed, 100 U.S. gallons of B100 bio-diesel has been produced along with 13 gallons of a glycerin byproduct.

This bio-diesel is then blended with regular diesel to match seasonal conditions, as freezing winter environments are normal in this part of California.

Heat for raising the temperature of the canola to 85C is supplied by nine, four-foot-by-eight-foot flat solar thermal panels.

The system uses glycol and a heat exchanger to provide the heat transmission from the solar panels to the oil stored in the two exchanger tanks.

This solar thermal arrangement provides 100 per cent of the heat requirements for up to 400 U.S. gallons of canola oil production each day.

Redundancy is built in as the system is backed up by a secondary electrically heated tank to ensure the process stays up and running, even on those occasional poor solar gain days.

In this area of California, the main harvests are sunshine and agricultural products, so days of low solar gain are relatively rare.

With the temperature requirements being met by the solar thermal panels, the fuel plant is now looking at supplementing its electrical consumption by installing the latest photovoltaic arrays.

Cost effective technologies and human ingenuity continue to make inroads into the production of sustainable sources of environmental friendly energy supplies.

I’d say it is a good start for preserving our children’s future, one in their version of this old world.

Lorne Oja is an energy consultant, power engineer and a partner in a company that installs solar panels, wind turbines and energy control products in Central Alberta.

He built his first off-grid home in 2003 and is in the planning stage for his second.

His column appears every second Friday in the Advocate. Contact him at: lorne@solartechnical.ca.