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:
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.”
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:
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 continued processing our small batch of handmade biodiesel while we waited for the welder to finish the bike stand on Sunday.
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!
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!
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 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).
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.
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:
Tyler flew to San Jose to have surgery on his knee Thursday so we watched his house for a few days.
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.
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 dug the trench for the underground copper tube that will transfer heat from the biochar stove to the WVO tank through a coil system. 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.
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.
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! 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.”
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: On Tuesday, we measured the size of the shelter and began digging the 2 foot deep post holes.
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:
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!
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.
Thursday, we began building the framework for the roof of the shelter and Ryan continued to prepare the water heater for the “greasercycle” pump.
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):
We finished the structure for the roof on Friday and we will install the tin sheets on Monday.
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).
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.”
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.
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.
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).
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:
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: http://www.indiegogo.com/nosara-biodiesel. We are eternally grateful to the following people (and to those who wish to remain anonymous) who made this possible:
Jayne Kerry- Chandler
Prudence and Marianne Carter
Ryan and I landed in San Jose Tuesday morning, and our driver Miguel was there to shuttle us 250 km back to Nosara.
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.
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:
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: http://www.nosara.hollerarchitecture.com/ 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.
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!):
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.”