Support the Nosara Wildlife Refuge and “Stop the shocks… after all, it’s a jungle out there.”

Wildlife Refuge - Safari Surf School

The Nosara Wildlife Refuge is a worthy cause! They are not a zoo or a wild animal park. Visitors are welcome only with advance appointments and not in large masses. It is a place for rehabilitation; filled with hope that injured animals will one day be free again.
Brenda Bombard I admire Brenda Bombard, the creator of the refuge, immensely for what she does. She has built a rescue program that is well known throughout the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica and beyond. She cares tirelessly for these animals, donating her time, resources and energies to repairing some of the damages that the impact of society has created. As a consequence of her work, she also has to face despairing situations on a regular basis. It takes great courage to deal with the grim and oftentimes fatal injuries that these animals have incurred.
The day that we visited the refuge, Brenda greeted us and walked us out to the broad area on her property where she has constructed giant containment areas for the animals. Many of the monkeys were running, swinging, and jumping around together to the delight of my kids. The Capuchin monkeys were the funniest. They would swing through the cage, land right next to us and make faces. It seemed as though everything they did was to entertain. In the trees above the property, an entire troop of Howler monkeys was playing in the wild. We were surrounded!
Nosara Wildlife Refuge - Howler Monkey Before we were introduced to the individual rescue animals, Brenda gave us a short bit of history on the reasons they usually end up there. The most prolific reason is shock by the uncovered electrical wires and transformers. The refuge is working constantly with ICE, the Costa Rica electrical company to have these wires safe guarded. They have made steady progress, but there is such a long way to go and the expenses for this are, unfortunately, not being covered by ICE in most cases. At one point, Brenda brought out a Howler who had been blinded by electrocution. My oldest daughter was allowed to hold the monkey in its baby blanket and we were all able to give it a little love. This monkey, unfortunately, cannot rejoin the wild, so, it will remain at the refuge.
Other animals were at the refuge due to misguided people taking them in as pets. In one case, Brenda was called to remove a Capuchin monkey from a house that it had basically taken over. The owners of the home had found the monkey as a baby and decided to keep it. They raised it in their home as you would a dog or cat, only to discover that the “wild” was not out of the monkey. When it got older and reached adolescence it became destructive, mischievous and, at times, violent. By the time Brenda was called, the monkey was inside the house while the owners were outside, too afraid to enter. There are television shows and reports that have depicted these monkeys as well as other types to be villains because of their attacks on humans, but, how can we expect docile domestic behavior from animals that are wild? It is no different than expecting a Grizzly bear to cuddle in bed with your child at night rather than a teddy bear.
Then, of course, there are the dogs. Anyone who has visited Costa Rica knows that there is a problem with domestic animals being allowed to roam freely. The dogs have an innate desire to catch the monkeys and when they do, it is not a fair fight. If a young monkey falls from a tree and becomes prey to a large dog, its chances of survival are grim. Luckily, the refuge has managed to save a few of these monkeys which they will likely be able to return to the wild. At the same time, they work with the local vets to spay and neuter stray animals and encourage leashes.
Nosara Wildlife Refuge
These are just a few of the reasons for animals finding themselves in the safe haven of Nosara Wildlife Refuge. Due to its incredible reputation, the refuge finds itself with more and more animals every day. This, despite their ongoing efforts to educate the community.
Nosara Wildlife Refuge - Isomil Baby Howler Monkey Currently, Brenda is caring for many babies which increases the difficulty of the job tenfold. The babies need Isomil baby formula, dried goat’s milk, and constant care. They do the best that they can but without help from outside donations, they could not possibly afford to treat these animals.
If you have visited Nosara, you have undoubtedly spent some time admiring the Howler’s in the trees. If you have not visited Nosara, it will definitely be something you will want to see and that you won’t forget. It is much better to see them in the trees than in a recovery unit. My children learned that from our visit to the refuge and we all gained an impactful education that will stay with us forever.
Please consider making a contribution to the Refuge. Anything that any of us can do to help, no matter how small, is a benefit to this deserving facility. They have a website with a means for monetary donations and a wish list. If you are traveling to Nosara in the near future, Safari Surf will be happy to make arrangements for you to visit Nosara Wildlife Refuge in person and deliver any items that you have to donate. We will also arrange for items to be sent to Nosara if you would like to mail them to our US address.
Support the Nosara Wildlife Refuge
Donations will help the refuge acquire an ultrasound machine as well as a temperature control infant incubator, which will help with the many burned monkeys they receive.

Innovative Biodiesel Project: Week 4


My last week in Nosara with the Innovative Biodiesel Project was hectic – running all over town trying to tie loose ends and finish as many “innovative” pieces of the puzzle as possible before I left so Ryan wouldn’t have too much to tackle on his own. Read on to see what worked and most importantly – what didn’t!
Monday was the beginning of a long week with numerous setbacks in the “greasercycle” design. Also, the gale-force winds I described in the last post prevented us from working on-site Monday and Tuesday mornings:

Unfortunately, our test with the smaller, cheaper and easier to use drill bit pump that would replace the traditional 1.5 horsepower electric water pump for the “greasercycle,” failed… Harbor Freight says its “chemical resistant,” but we’re not too sure about that because once our methoxide mix was pumped into the water heater tank to react with the WVO – it stopped instantly. “Oh well, that’s science!” – Ryan.

So we resorted to the traditional method of converting an old water pump into the “greasercycle” pump. We went to “Trino’s Reycling Center” in town and found an older water pump for cheap. [Ryan beginning to take it apart.]

While Ryan broke into the pump, I took a crack at removing the steel capsule in this old water heater for our ethanol still, which will be used for purification of our homemade ethanol.
Voila, we washed out the steel tank which would have been way easier if one of the plastic pipes hadn’t shattered into a million tiny pieces, but after a few hours of cleaning she was as good as new.

This little guy appreciates our greywater filtration system.

Since the pump was no longer working, we had about 30 gallons of biodiesel sitting in our water heater unmixed, but we took 5 gallons out for a test batch to mix by hand for the week until we resolved our bike-pump issue. [Ryan making the methoxide mix].
We cleaned up the project site Tuesday after the winds died down (gathered a lot of dead twigs and leaves for biochar production) and prepared for our “field trip.”
We are conducting a test to see how long it takes for the ethanol fermentation process to happen naturally without adding store-bought yeast (yeast occurs naturally in the fruit scraps). [Bucket to the left has added yeast, one to the right doesn’t]. We sealed them up and we’ll compare them in two weeks.
The 7th graders from the Del Mar Academy in Nosara had a “field trip” to the Innovative Biodiesel Project (thanks for setting that up Jess!). [Ryan explaining the “Greasercycle.”]

Me explaining the wash tank as the students (plus surf instructor, Nico) look at the sprinkler/bubbler system.

Peering into the algae collection jug as Ryan explains the significance of our homemade ethanol. After the field trip, the teacher asked if Ryan would come to the school next week to give a presentation on the carbon cycle and how it relates to our project…Ryan is stoked.

Wednesday through Friday was a blur – going all over town for meetings with leaders in the community to facilitate my other projects as Sustainability Director for Safari Surf…along with trying to find remedies for our aforementioned issues with the system:

Cut an old tin sheet into 3 pieces and used JB Weld to seal them together for our hot plate, which is the first piece of our heat transfer system.
The hot plate will have a copper pipe on top in a zig-zag fashion to collect heat generated from the biochar stove…

…and then extend out into the trench through steel pipe into the WVO tank until the cooking oil reaches 130 F (high heat = low viscosity, which is necessary for processing). The steel piping for the heat transfer is really expensive here and we’ve been told of a few people that sometimes have these materials in used condition (cheaper), but no one has any in stock so we’re playing the waiting game. During the hottest part of the day, we’ve consistently seen the grease at 110 F just from sitting in the sun so we won’t need much additional heat, but this system will benefit those in colder climates immensely. The ethanol still (blue steel tank) will sit above the stove to heat our homemade ethanol and purify it for use in processing.

We finished cleaning out the old water pump and connecting it to the water heater so it will pump in WVO and methoxide into the tank for mixing. Then we started testing designs for the greasercycle. We initially tried having the inner tube (shown above) directly on the pump, which provided great torque, but made it difficult to keep the tube on the rim. This design is also less convenient (can’t take the bike on and off).

I met with Sergio, the new Sustainability Coordinator for the Harmony Hotel (lobby above), to see if we could trade biodiesel for their grease considering they currently pay to ship their grease 250km to a biodiesel plant near San Jose. Sergio agreed that their current trade for biodiesel is counterproductive and is going to partner with us instead.

Went to 4 different carpenters in town to find the best artist for the plaque. The last one we met, Joule, was the best – really professional and talented (this is a door he’s working on). After we told him what the project was about, he was stoked to help us out – the plaque will be finished in 3 weeks!

I met with Christophe, a Swiss ex-pat forestry engineer, at the construction site of the new recycling center. We talked about what volunteer opportunities are available for clients who book the Sustainable Surfer Package I created. We also discussed more of the logistics for how the recycling center will function, and how the town is tackling other issues such as water supply (they’re in a 3 year drought). They milled all the Pachote here in the hills of Nosara and are selling the extra wood to generate revenue for finishing the recycling center – we are going to purchase their wood for our plaque, while also supporting their cause!

The Costas Verdes Barri-Guiones reforestation project is another volunteer opportunity I organized for our guests so I went with Dave, Tara and Megan to see the project at the new surf school, Agua Tibia.

Gerardo, the director of the Barri-Guiones project, taught us how to transplant the native barriguione trees into bigger pots so they’ll be ready to plant at the beginning of the rainy season. The project started two years ago to reintroduce the native tree species on the shores of Playa Guiones, which was originally clearcut for cattle farmers decades ago, but then protected as a wildlife refuge by the government when tourism developers tried to build a golf course.

Tara and Megan doing their part.

We tested our small batch of biodiesel on Saturday that we made by hand (due to the broken pump) to see how much more processing it needed before it would be ready.
We conducted the “27/3” test to see if our biodiesel was up to ASTM Spec, which if it passes means it meets commercial biodiesel production standards. We knew we were testing it too early, but Ryan wanted to show me what a fail looks like. You add 3ml of your biodiesel to 27ml of methanol (hence “27/3”) and stir – if the biodiesel is completely absorbed by the methanol in a minute and you don’t see any oily globs settle at the bottom, then you’ve passed the test. Our small batch needed to be reprocessed which required adding a minuscule amount of methoxide mix back into the biodiesel, shaking by hand, and then letting it sit overnight.

This is our new convenient design for the “greasercycle.” We took an old rubber chain from the dump, cut it in half and JB welded it to the metal cylinder on the water pump so the tire will have traction (and the bike can be taken off easily).

After Ryan and I tried to MacGyver a few contraptions for stabilizing the bike while you pedal, we decided to call a local welder to make a proper bike stand that is simple and easy to use. [Louise the welder taking measurements.]

We continued processing our small batch of handmade biodiesel while we waited for the welder to finish the bike stand on Sunday.
Our algae collection jug above the ethanol fermentation tank has grown exponentially – so green!

Ryan showed me how good biodiesel will quickly separate when mixed with water and how the water removes all the soap (extra chemicals) out of the biodiesel (a glimpse into what will happen in our large wash tank).

We washed our biodiesel a few times and siphoned the water out each time…getting closer and closer to pure biodiesel.

We needed to heat our batch of biodiesel just a little bit more so we took a portion of the 5 gallon batch and placed it on the hot plate while making biochar (cave man heat transfer system).

I tried to finish as much as possible Monday morning before my flight at 10am. Jazz (Casa Tucan) and I met Milton from the Gilded Iguana on Saturday to make a deal with him and his 3 colleagues who are getting paid by a biodiesel plant near San Jose to collect and send grease from Nosara. After explaining to him how keeping the grease in Nosara is better for the community and that we will trade biodiesel for grease instead of paying him in cash, he said yes! However, he still needed to talk to his 3 amigos and see if they could meet with me Monday morning before I left…unfortunately that didn’t happen, but Ryan and Jazz will still meet with them this week. Once we have a formal agreement, we’ll be collecting all the WVO in Nosara, providing jobs, and cranking out as much biodiesel as possible while reducing emissions throughout the whole town!
Paid Joule (the plaque artist) first thing Monday morning, and took him to the recycling center so he could personally choose the wood for the plaque. [A family of howler monkeys were playing above us as we went over the plaque design one last time – sorry I didn’t get a pic of the baby.]

Louise the welder dropped off the bike stand, which we will hammer into the dirt at the right angle/height for securing the rear tire of the greasercycle.

Bubbles are the last step to purifying the biodiesel believe it or not. Here we have an air bubbler connected to a hose that is pushing air through the biodiesel, evaporating any remaining water so the finished product is completely dry. We will have a small solar panel connected to the air bubbler for the wash/dry tank. Unfortunately the drying phase was not finished that morning…I really wanted to pour our small batch of biodiesel into the Safari Surf van for the first time and drive to the airport on biodiesel.

Flying out of Nosara (looking over Playa Guiones) on the world’s first carbon neutral airline – Nature Air.

It was tough to leave the project with the greasercycle so close to completion as well as not having the biochar heat transfer system in place, but I know that Ryan will get the job done (I’ll be helping as much as I can through Skype and email). Ryan being bedridden the first week, “Tico Time,” faulty equipment from the hardware store, and limited access to basic supplies/tools (we’re in a small town in a developing country) definitely caused some setbacks, but we still accomplished a great deal and we’re not giving up, we are just taking a little longer than expected to have the “innovative” system up and running. The community is behind us, we have our staff, and now we have all the supplies – its all coming together! Keep following us for updates from Ryan here on the Safari Surf blog. Stay Greasy!

Innovative Biodiesel Project: Week 3


We have a roof over our heads and we’re ready to make biodiesel! Read on to see what the IBP team accomplished this past week in paradise.
Previous posts: Week 1 & Week 2

We collected grease from the Casa Tucan and Beach Dog Cafe… bringing our total to 22 gallons on Monday.

Rigo putting the finishing touches to the frame before laying our tin roof.

Leveled the space where our door will be.

Ryan prepping our beach cruiser for the grease pump.

We collected some ash from a fire pit, which we will purify with boiling water and our homemade ethanol to make lye so we won’t have to buy “potasa” (potassium/lye) from the store.

Rigo starting the roof.

One side done.

We were able to start the other side, but we didn’t finish it before our meeting that afternoon.

Nosara Sostenible Presentation at Giardino Tropicale (thanks for hosting us Marcel!).

We presented our project to Nosara Sostenible – a committee of like minded individuals (business owners, teachers, etc) in the community who are dedicated to making Nosara a model for sustainable development for the rest of Costa Rica. A couple more restaurants are interested in joining the program and Jessica (teacher from the Del Mar Academy) will include our project in her talks to the community about the new recycling center and to include their used cooking grease when collecting/sorting their waste! Tuesday was hectic at the Casa Tucan. Channel 7 News, one of Costa Rica’s national tv channels, filmed their latest story about the thievery issue in Playa Pelada (Nosara) at the Tucan and tons of people from the community came to be interviewed. There was also a major plumbing issue at the hotel so Rigo and Ivan couldn’t help with the construction of the shelter. Ryan and I went to the hardware store and purchased two clear 50 gallon drums (one for ethanol storage, one for biodiesel storage) and a 120 gallon wash tank (the last step in filtering the biodiesel by washing the remaining particulates out of the fuel).
Channel 7 News

They were selling baby chickens outside the hardware store… couldn’t think of a way to justify buying one for our project, but we really wanted one.

Wednesday was a productive day: we finished the roof; started the ethanol fermentation; collected more grease; received our biochar stove; and made the greywater filtration system.
The last piece and…

…the techo is finished!

Ethanol tank was 1/2 full with fruit so we added water and yeast and sealed her up – we’ll have homemade ethanol in 2 weeks!

Ryan put a braided hose into a water jug to collect the CO2 produced from the fermentation process to make algae (green color at the bottom), which we can use in our greywater filtration system and to produce more biodiesel.

Ryan, fitted for greasin’.
We use an old surfboard leash to tie down all the WVO we collect.

Ryan found the cleanest grease we’ve collected so far just sitting at a dump near the town center. We are working to spread the message to all the restaurants in town that they don’t need to throw away their grease… we can use it for fuel!

Me adding the last bit of grease we picked up, bringing our total to 37 gallons of WVO.

I made our greywater filtration system, which is fairly easy. This is where the water from the wash tank will be deposited after its been used to filter out the last of the particulates in the biodiesel:

Dug a trench and used two pieces of pipe that were just laying around Tyler’s property.
Drilled small holes throughout the pipe and placed rocks underneath (Tyler had a pile of rocks on his property as well).
Put the two pieces of pipe together and filled the rest of the trench with rocks…
…filled it with dirt and its good to go.
Our biochar stove arrived from Art Donnelly at SeaChange here in Costa Rica so we tested it out. Click here for Art’s photo gallery of how he makes his stoves.
Our first batch of biochar…we’ll set up the heat transfer system to the WVO tank next week.

Tyler flew to San Jose to have surgery on his knee Thursday so we watched his house for a few days.

Not too shabby.

Rigo and Ivan worked on the garden at the Tucan so Ryan and I made a trip to the hardware store to buy copper tubing for the biochar heat transfer system and the bubble coil in the wash tank. I began permanently securing all the pieces of the system into the ground with rebar and cinder blocks (we only had to buy a few more cinder blocks, the rest were old ones we collected from the Tucan and on Tyler’s property). Friday, we finished stabilizing all the parts of the system with rebar and cinder blocks while Ryan continued to work on the pump with the water heater, the methoxide tank, and the WVO tank.
Securing the wash tank and six other tanks/drums.

Rigo built a desk and a shelf with all the scrap wood lying around Tyler’s property and what was leftover from the construction of the shelter.


We used biodiesel from our “Fanta” test batch to treat the wood and stain it – looks better doesn’t it?

Our recycled side table, which will hold the ethoxide (ethanol and sodium hydroxide) tank.

We dug the trench for the underground copper tube that will transfer heat from the biochar stove to the WVO tank through a coil system. innovative-biodiesel-project-week-3-(31) On Saturday, Ryan said he a needed a day to himself without any distractions (construction, hardware store visits, miscellaneous hotel issues) to finish testing and making the first batch of biodiesel the old fashioned way before we start to add the “innovative” parts to the system. Ryan tested the water heater and the pump with a 5 gallon pechinga of WVO and wrote 5, 10, 15…30 gallon marks on the tube that feeds into the water heater tank so we know how much WVO is being mixed with the ethoxide before we start pedaling the greasercycle.
We went to the rodeo that night in Garza (one beach town south of Playa Guiones) to experience the local cowboy culture and have a break from work. Check out Safari Surf’s new blog series “Inside the Peak” for more photos and stories from the past week thanks to our new social media man behind the scenes, Nick.
View from atop the fence around the ring…had a few close calls with the bulls – yeeew!

We woke up to destruction Sunday morning as unprecedented gale-force winds had ripped through Nosara. The Casa Tucan had a few fallen trees and the power was out so I walked down to the beach to see what the offshore winds were doing to the waves.
This tree was completely uprooted and in the Casa Tucan pool, but it was cleaned up a couple hours later no problem.

All the sand was being stripped off the beach and engraved in my calves. Waves looked good, but impossible to ride…until later that afternoon when it glassed off and the water temp dropped down to 68 degrees (brrr).

This green sea turtle laid her eggs and was struggling to get back to the water with the windblown sand in her face…one guy eventually picked her up and brought her to the shore.

Salvation… it was a relief for all of us watching.

That afternoon, the wind died down a little bit and two clients that had booked the voluntourism package I created for Safari Surf, called the Sustainable Surfer Package, wanted to see the “Innovative Biodiesel Project” and Ryan and I wanted to make sure it was still there! innovative-biodiesel-project-week-3-(42) Megan and Lauren were impressed and Ryan and I were relieved to see that everything was still in tact – it was just covered in branches and leaves thankfully. If our shelter and biodiesel system can withstand the strongest winds to ever hit Nosara, then we are in good shape. However, the news says this wind storm will be here for two more days and we have a lot to get done so hopefully it doesn’t slow us down too much. Ryan’s batch of biodiesel that he started to make Saturday has been pushed back another day due to the harsh winds on Sunday and the Harbor Freight drill pump failing to pump the methoxide into the water heater (even though the pump is supposed to be resistant to chemicals, it seized up so we’ll have to use the red hand pump). Come back next week to see the “Innovative Biodiesel Project” complete! Rigo’s friend who is a welder is helping us put together the greasercycle system. We have 7th graders from the Del Mar Academy coming on Tuesday to learn about the whole process. We will finish enclosing the shelter with a fence and a door and the appropriate safety signs and we are tossing around ideas for the plaque so we’ll have that up this week as well. (People expecting post cards as a “perk” for donating – you should have them in the next week or so!)
Jump to “Week 4.”

Innovative Biodiesel Project: Week 2


Our second week was extremely productive! Ryan started to feel a lot better on Monday thanks to the antibiotics and we organized a work schedule with Tyler’s gardeners, Rigo and Ivan. From Tuesday to Friday, we would start working at 7am and finish at 5 or 5:30pm. Ryan and I have been able to surf at sunset everyday, which is perfect for washing off all the dirt and grime. See our progress throughout this past week by scrolling through the photos. In case you missed the update from Week 1, click here. We picked up more construction materials on Monday and laid out our plans for the week. This is what the project site looked like before we began construction: innovative-biodiesel-project-week-2-(1) On Tuesday, we measured the size of the shelter and began digging the 2 foot deep post holes.

Me playing in the dirt.

Ryan cleaning and repurposing the old water heater. We flushed it with water and small amounts of muriatic acid, then we used some of the biodiesel from out little Fanta bottle to finish the job.

Tyler’s guard dog and our construction site companion, Fiddie.

We have been collecting fruit scraps from the Casa Tucan and Kaya Sol daily for ethanol fermentation.

Wednesday, Rigo brought all the teak we needed for the shelter, which is sustainably harvested from a local plantation in Nosara (apparently teak grows like a weed here – 2 out of the 3 species of teak are endangered, but not the one we are using). First we had to de-bark all the teak, which is no joke – you smack the bark until it becomes loose and then pull it off. My hands were done at the end of the day:



Smack, smack, smack.
We will let all the bark dry completely and then use it for biochar.



IMAG0105 After placing the six teak posts in the ground and securing them by compressing dirt and rocks in each hole, Ryan and I went to Kaya Sol to collect 15 gallons of used cooking grease! Thanks Jorge and everyone at Kaya Sol!

Ryan using a Harbor Freight hand-pump to pump the grease out of Kaya Sol’s 50 gallon drum into a 5 gallon “pechinga.” The restaurants receive their fry oil in these pechingas and we reuse them for WVO collection.

Pouring WVO through the metal screen filter into our 450 liter collection tank to catch all the crud we don’t want.

The aftermath… these scraps are used in our compost pile.

innovative-biodiesel-project-week-2-(26) Our little bottle of “Fanta” biodiesel from last week is now completely settled and crystal clear with the glycerine byproduct settled at the bottom (click here or on the image to read Ryan’s DIY instructions for making biodiesel at home). Glycerine has been on my mind a lot lately… let me explain. Seeing local schoolchildren and families smothered by dust when cars zoom by bothers me immensely, and after talking to some of the surf instructors and other locals, I’m not the only one who feels this way. I was reminded of this problem Thursday morning when I saw molasses being poured all over the road (see image below), which is how the town currently keeps the dust to a minimum. However, this process is expensive, smelly and sticky (pieces of it are launched from car tires that drive by – my legs were covered). We want to use glycerine instead because it is hygroscopic, meaning it absorbs moisture from the air. When mixed with water, we can spray it on the roads to keep the dust down without leaving pungent odors and gooey textures. Since glycerine is a natural byproduct of producing biodiesel, its significantly cheaper than molasses. We know this solution is not available right now, but in the near future we want to collect glycerine in mass amounts and use it to solve this health issue for the community.
Molasses… not for long!

Thursday, we began building the framework for the roof of the shelter and Ryan continued to prepare the water heater for the “greasercycle” pump.
Securing the tin sheets for our roof to Rigo’s truck.

We were hoping to use the old tin sheets that make up the fence separating the Casa Tucan from this hideous apartment complex that has been sitting unfinished for six years, but the tin is rusty and littered with holes. The group who purchased the Casa Tucan also purchased this space and is tearing down the complex completely (see image below): innovative-biodiesel-project-week-2-(23)
The beginnings of the roof.

We finished the structure for the roof on Friday and we will install the tin sheets on Monday. innovative-biodiesel-project-week-2-(27)

Rigo securing the lateral posts with metal wire… he’s 50 and killing it.
Without him and Ivan, the shelter would have taken another week.

Ivan will most likely be our trainee for producing biodiesel.

Almost there…

Ryan decided that the “Apple Turnover” design would be most appropriate for our water heater because there is too much space between the valve and the bottom of the tank – some of the biodiesel would be stuck at the bottom. Its basically just an inverted Appleseed system. Click here to learn more about the benefits of this system.

Additionally, we are testing a smaller, cheaper and easier to use pump (see image below) than the traditional 1.5 horsepower electric water pump ($90) that you connect to a bicycle to mix the chemicals and grease to make biodiesel. Ryan installed a drill chuck on to a heavy duty drill bit pump (Harbor Freight – $15) that we can hook up to Tyler’s beach cruiser (we’ll test our new design Monday or Tuesday).
New pump with drill chuck attached.

See what other cool things people are doing with bicycle pumps all over the world (click closed captioning “CC” for subtitles):

I had sent out an email earlier in the week to all the restaurants in Nosara explaining our project and that we would like to start collecting their grease and fruit scraps. Beach Dog Cafe and Cafe de Paris have joined the program and it looks like we’ll have Rancho Tico as well. On Saturday, I went to collect grease and fruit from Beach Dog Cafe and the owner, Mike, was really helpful. Fabian from Cafe de Paris, will notify us when he has more grease because he currently has less than a liter. Thanks for the support! The methanol and lye arrived on Saturday as well. After collecting all the fruit from the past week, we will be ready to start ethanol fermentation on Monday. Once the 120 gallon drum is half full with fruit, we fill it with water to 3/4 full and add yeast – let it sit for two weeks and then we’ll have ethanol! We should have the roof finished tomorrow as well as the other parts to the biodiesel system… we will be ready for production by mid-week! Ryan and I are presenting at Nosara Sostenible’s weekly meeting tomorrow to talk about our project and hopefully rally more support from the local businesses who are passionate about sustainability. See you next week!
Jump to “Week 3.”

Innovative Biodiesel Project: Ryan’s DIY Kit

If you’re interested in learning how to make your own biodiesel the first steps are simple and easy; don’t jump right into building a processor, titrating waste oil, processing big batches, and risking producing poor quality biodiesel. Start out with a 1 liter “test batch” using new vegetable oil to learn the basic chemistry – there’s little risk and you’re almost certain to end up with good results! Familiarize yourself with this tutorial so when we publish our designs and instructions for the “Innovative Biodiesel Project,” you’ll be good to go! – Ryan King.

Safety first:

Your 2 primary reagents are lye and methanol – learn how to store, handle, and work with these chemicals in small amounts before moving on to large quantities.
KOH and NaOH (both referred to as lye) are caustic and must be handled with gloves. Breathing masks are recommended when handling large amounts of lye – if the dust is inhaled, it can burn the nasal passageway and respiratory system. Lye reacts with aluminum, tin and zinc. Use HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene) or #2 plastic, glass, enamel or stainless steel containers for lye and methoxide. Lye is also hygroscopic, meaning it absorbs moisture from the air. Care must be maintained during storage and weighing to avoid prolonged exposure to open air. Lye containers must be airtight, and weighing should be performed quickly in a dry, safe location.
Methanol is also hygroscopic and must be stored in air tight containers. Methanol has a high toxicity in humans. If as little as 10 mL of pure methanol is ingested it can break down into formic acid, which can cause permanent blindness. As little as 30 ml of ingested methanol is potentially fatal. The initial symptoms of methanol intoxication include: central nervous system depression, headache, dizziness, nausea, lack of coordination, and confusion. Sufficiently large doses can cause unconsciousness and death. The initial symptoms of methanol exposure are usually less severe than the symptoms resulting from the ingestion of a similar quantity of ethanol. Once the initial symptoms have passed, a second set of symptoms arises, 10 to as many as 30 hours after the initial exposure to methanol, including blurring or complete loss of vision. Methanol ingestion, absorption through the skin or inhalation of fumes can be treated with ethanol, which acts as a competitive inhibitor of the hepatic enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase, preventing methanol’s conversion to toxic by-products.

Getting started:

Buy about a liter of new vegetable oil (canola, soy, sunflower or corn oil) at the grocery store. New, unused oil will not need to be dewatered or filtered. Pick up a few hundred milliliters of 99% or higher purity methanol (most automotive stores sell HEET brand antifreeze – the yellow container is pure enough for biodiesel production), and pick up some lye from a grocery or hardware store (make sure to get pure lye without coloring or added drain cleaners).

New Vegetable Oil
Heet – methanol
Store bought lye

Making Biodiesel!

Finished product.

Start warming up your new vegetable oil on an electric stove or with passive solar (no open flames!) to a temperature of around 120-132 degrees Fahrenheit. If the oil is too hot, the methanol will start evaporating and the reaction won’t perform as well. The average amount of lye needed to fully convert 1 liter of new oil is about 3.5 grams of NaOH or about 4.9 grams of KOH. In a separate container, mix either 3.5 grams of NaOH or 4.9 grams of KOH into 200 ml of methanol until fully dissolved – use a safe container made of HDPE plastic. This is the methoxide mix – the combination of the reagent and catalyst that will break the triglycerides of the vegetable oil into individual fatty acid methyl esters (also known as “biodiesel) and a layer of settled out byproduct consisting mostly of glycerin (which you can use to make soap!). When the oil is up to temperature, carefully pour in the methoxide, close the container and shake vigorously for about 3-5 minutes. You will notice a color change, indicating the reaction is occurring. After shaking, allow the byproduct to settle out – it usually takes about 10 to 20 minutes to start noticing the separation, then a few hours for substantial byproduct to precipitate.
Here’s a short video that Make Magazine put together for a DIY biodiesel project:

Check out for more details on biodiesel test batches, and let us know if you have questions!

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.”

Innovative Biodiesel Project

I launched our fundraising campaign for the Innovative Biodiesel Project on IndieGogo last week and we have already raised 56% of our $5,000 goal!
Please watch the video below and if you believe in the project, surf over to our campaign page to make a pledge and share it with your friends, family and coworkers using the sharing tools right below the video:

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