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!