Innovative Biodiesel Project: Week 1

The “Innovative Biodiesel Project” has begun!

Welcome, I am Safari Surf’s Sustainability Director, Carl Kish, and together with biodiesel expert, Ryan King, we will be posting updates on our progress every week during the 4 weeks that we are here in beautiful Nosara, Costa Rica. Follow our progress as we create the world’s first small-scale biodiesel production system that is closed-loop (zero waste), energy independent (off-grid), and carbon negative. Our project was successfully funded on Feb 6th on the crowdfunding website, Indiegogo – view our campaign page for more information:
We are eternally grateful to the following people (and to those who wish to remain anonymous) who made this possible:

Maegan Badham
Tim Marsh
Alexander Vinson
Stephen Kish
Jayne Kerry- Chandler
David Thibeault
Steve Scagliotti
John Anderson
Carl Graziani
Janet Davidson
Dominic Graziani
David Mahony
Peter McConnell
Marian Lim
Linus Eriksson
Hilda Hardy
Keith Mello
Courtney Keller
Sam Evans
John Dobleman
Andrius- Kavaliunas
Andrew Oliveira
Bob Balch
Prudence and Marianne Carter
Debra Takami
Jess Ponting
Alfred Padula
Marcy Siskind
Rosie Roberts
Harry Luce
Deborah Dobbins
Cara Hoffman
Sarah Lowry
Aaron Wong
Sarah Bexell
Rhett Butler
Kevin Mello
Jenny Mei
James Hake
Nick Glasco
Leah Bremer
Justine Schmidt
Vernon Badham
Hector Bertrand
Joyce McAfee
Dylan Fish
David Perault
Jennifer Willcott
Olivier Lejade
Diane Tran
Travis Heacock
Rebecca Needens
Dawn Kinney
Vincent Graham
James Ebrahimi
Matt Carlucci
Kevin Davidson
John Bowling
Jennifer- Stojanovich
Joseph Walsh
Kathleen Kish
Sherry Smith-Witcraft
Amelia Scott
Megan Brown
Jenna Black
Tobias Haller

Week 1

Ryan and I landed in San Jose Tuesday morning, and our driver Miguel was there to shuttle us 250 km back to Nosara.

My new Tico name.

Costa Rican Countryside

We stopped at a few places in Nicoya to pick up materials and get prices for the larger pieces of our system so we could budget our funds accordingly. Six hours later, we arrived at the Hotel Casa Tucan in Playa Guiones at four in the afternoon, hungry and jetlagged.

Gnarliest bull in Nosara – apparently its killed two matador’s already.
I missed this… nachos con pollo y Segua (Costa Rica Craft Brewing Co)

Exhausted from all the travelling, we dropped off our bags, and then went to relax on the beach. We walked to the north end of Guiones to see the defunct palace that has been empty for years… still a cool place with a nice view:


“Mis Amores” Horseback Tours

That night we calculated our expenses and laid out the entire project budget for the next four weeks… then we passed out.
Next day (Wednesday), Ryan woke up with some sort of bug and he still hasn’t shaken it off (its now Sunday). He’s been a trooper though – still working all day with a few breaks here and there, but hopefully he fully recovers before we begin construction tomorrow.
We placed an order for methanol and lye with Arvi Chemicals in Cartago, which was more difficult than I had expected because we needed to find our own transportation to bring it to Nosara (driving with flammable chemicals… most of our contacts weren’t willing), but we eventually found someone and they will be here Wednesday. Now some of you may be thinking “Wait, I thought you guys were using homemade ethanol instead of methanol?!” Well unfortunately, we have to use some methanol for the first batch of biodiesel because it is the control variable against which we test all other variables. This includes testing the purity of our homemade ethanol. Therefore, if we encounter any problems as we add our unique aspects to the traditional Appleseed Biodiesel System, we will be able to identify which variable caused the issue and fix it. Once all the testing is done, we will use our homemade ethanol for biodiesel production instead of methanol.
We are collecting fruit scraps from the Casa Tucan kitchen as well as a local restaurant/hotel, Kaya Sol, who have been generous enough to provide us with their fruit scraps daily! The sugar from the fruit, mixed with yeast and water, will produce ethanol in 2 to 3 weeks. We have a small test batch of ethanol in a 5 gallon bucket while Ryan and I are here, but we are collecting fruit scraps to fill our 120 gallon tank so that by the time we leave, we can begin the fermentation process on a larger scale.  It is ideal to produce as much ethanol as possible because by the time we collect enough waste oil to make a batch of biodiesel, the ethanol fermentation tank will be full and will last for several batches (giving us enough time to fill the 120 gallon drum with fruit again). Just to give you an idea – the amount of ethanol used in each batch of biodiesel averages to about 30% of the volume of waste oil.


Ryan and I went to the landfill on Thursday to see if we could repurpose any of the trash, luckily we were able to find one plastic jug that was still clean and wasn’t cracked. This will be our methoxide tank (methanol and potassium hydroxide), which we mix with the grease to make biodiesel. We also were very lucky to find an old 50 gallon water heater behind the Hotel Casa Tucan, which is in working order (we just need to clean it up a bit). That will save us about $500!
I really wanted to see the new Recycling Center the town is building, which is part of the landfill. I have been following their progress on this blog: and I was stoked to see in person how large it is and how far they have come – its truly impressive:


Now, there has been a sudden development, and the Hotel Casa Tucan has been purchased. While unfortunate, this does not affect our program, it actually enhances it because we are designing the system to be portable – all the parts can be disassembled and reassembled at their new location. Just because the location changed, does not mean our goal is any different – we are still creating a sustainable method for small-scale fuel production and sharing the designs online for free. This was just a minor setback and Safari Surf School will be moving out of the Hotel Casa Tucan this September when their lease is up. As a result, Tyler Marsh (co-owner of Safari Surf), has been so kind as to let us build the system on his property temporarily, until we are ready to transfer the system to Safari Surf’s new headquarters (yet to be determined). We surveyed Tyler’s property on Friday and picked a perfect location for the time being. Tyler’s gardener is also going to help us construct the shelter, which is a huge bonus. We are going to the Ferreteria in Nosara (hardware store) Monday morning to purchase all the necessary supplies.

New Project Site

One of Safari Surf’s surf instructors, Enrique, had 5 gallons of methanol left over from when Ryan was in Nosara three years ago! Ryan tested the methanol to make sure it was still in tact – we bought some cooking oil from the market and made a small test batch of biodiesel in a Fanta bottle so I could be more familiar with the whole process (its really easy!):
Fanta’s new flavor. [Orange stuff settled at the bottom is glycerine, which we use to make soap]
Tomorrow is a big day – we will purchase all the construction materials for the shelter and then we will break ground. Tonight is Karaoke night at the Casa Tucan, should be fun! Thanks for reading! Pura vida!
Jump to “Week 2.”

Business in “Pura Vida-Ville”: Laying the Foundation

Don’t ever let anyone tell you moving to a foreign country is easy…its not! All of our cargo was held up in customs for ten days, every box gone through, and god knows how many things went missing. Once it was all said and done, we got to our destination and our dream home – a 650 square foot box that was a mere 100 feet from the beach in Garza. With the lease paid three months in advance, brooms and paint brushes in hand, we were ready to make the market/deli our own.
Richard had closed the market for some six months or so prior, so once we arrived there were cob webs and a pungent moldy odor. A friendly bat who would not vacate, bugs, and things I’m not sure what the hell they were…littered the place. A huge undertaking in retrospect, but we were “living the dream” so the countless hours of cleaning, scrubbing, painting, building, and fixing were okay as we were preparing for the new “high season.” We had visions of customers coming through town in droves just to buy our custom made sandwiches and goodies.
To give you an idea of how far off of the “grid” we were at that time, the town of Garza had no telephone lines except for one at the main “soda” (Tico word for local restaurant), which typically had a line that would last for hours. There were no computers, WiFi, cable TV, doctors, banks, or ATM’s…I think you get the picture. We were on our own and off the beaten path for sure. Plus, we were so blond we stood out like a sore thumb in that town. We were like the side show attraction to all the locals…literally!
We certainly had the right idea for our market/deli. We had found an amazing butcher/cheese vendor in San Jose with prime meats that were not available in Garza or anywhere in that vicinity. You have to understand that some of the basic foods we take for granted like Lay’s Potato Chips, Snickers, real butter etc…were not only unavailable in our town, but not available anywhere in Costa Rica except select places in San Jose (5 hours inland). Marsi and I would go to San Jose and buy $1500 to $3000 or more worth of “food” and pack our little cracker jack truck we bought for a song and a dance and head on to Garza like traveling hillbillies.
We were the talk of the town…from the local people who were stupefied we would live in that market, to the ex-pats and people who were wanted on Interpol (at least it felt that way!) that lived in the surrounding areas. People would come in just to buy a Snickers bar and just a Snickers bar only. Most all of the ex-pats were on Social Security and had just enough money to buy a Snickers or a bag of REAL potato chips. It was kind of comical and sad all at the same time.
High season came and it was like someone turned on a light switch…we were kicking some butt. We had business rolling in and we were on top of the world. At this time, I contacted my brother Tyler who lived back home in Hawaii and told him to come check out Costa Rica and see what we were doing…surfing everyday and living a simple relaxed life. Tyler was there within a couple of weeks, surfboard in hand and a smile on his face.
Tyler quickly fell in love with the people, the country, the good surf, and most of all, the pura vida spirit, just as I had. He was sold that this was the place for him to be. Amazingly so that he went back to Hawaii, gathered all his stuff together, and moved back within a month! He had found some work with a gringo who had a HUGE farm a few miles south who needed a farm hand/gardener to help keep the over 500 acres in check. Just as a side note, this property is now owned by Mel Gibson.
Things were good, Tyler was working and our mini market/deli was doing okay…sustaining life for us there. Then, like a light switch can be turned on, it can also be turned off…the high season of tourists had just dried up as quickly as they had came. Marsi and I were NOT prepared for that nor had we been enlightened by Richard in advance that the slow season comes quickly and brutally. Perhaps that is why he and his wife wanted out, there were 4 months of “glory” and then nada…zip…zilch.
As the days turned into weeks of no business other than selling the basic staples of rice, beans, manteca, and Guaro to the local people, which of course we didn’t mark up as we thought that was not the right thing to do and certainly not a gesture of good will for letting us chill in their town. Marsi and I found ourselves eating our food, drinking our liquor to the point where we basically had nothing left accept each other and the grim reality that we had lost EVERYTHING in less than a year.
The only option we had was to go “home” to California and try to re-start our lives again. I didn’t want this to be my reality and I can tell you that Marsi and I drank ourselves into a stupor numerous times trying to drown out the sorrow (and embarrassment too) of having to go home like dogs with their tails between their legs. We had failed. I must say that we had so many unbelievable life experiences during that year that certainly will never be forgotten. Those experiences and memories I knew could never be taken away from us.
Once reality set in and there was nothing we could do about it, a small sense of peace came to me knowing that my brother Tyler was there and no way shape or form moving back to the states. He was there come hell or high water. There was a sense of purpose I felt, even though it wasn’t my purpose, I still felt like “well cool, at least I introduced this to my bro and he will keep the dream alive.” It was the best (and only) consolation prize I had. Little did I know that it was going to play a HUGE part later in my life.
Packed with what little we had left, sitting in the airport staring at my immediate future of having to live at my father in laws house (don’t get me wrong he is a super cool cat!) with no job, no money, and no spine…well let’s just say I’ve had better thoughts pore through my mind. My wife turns to me (and I will NEVER forget the look on her face – “should I tell him?” Yes…no…yes…) and then she tells me “baby, I’m pregnant.” My immediate reaction, “F me! Can it get any worse? Is this a sick joke?” This was all in my head of course as I smiled with great joy and wonder giving Marsi a bear hug of congratulatory size.
Wow talk about lighting a fire under my ass! Needless to say the plane ride home was a blur as my head spun from all that had just transpired within weeks. My life, my dream…turned upside down by the powers that be. Sick twisted humor.