RolfQuo Biodiesel by Legal Eagle
RolfQuo Biodiesel is a mid sized commercial biodiesel producer situated at 18900 Clark Graham in Baie D’Urfe Quebec, Canada. Recently we had the opportunity to sit down with Andy Quosdorf, the owner and his plant manager, Kai Maddock to discuss their operation and some of the innovative methods they use in producing quality biodiesel. Here is what they had to say;
LE: Your background is in chemical blending, so why biodiesel ?
Andy: It’s something we got interested in about 3 1/2 years ago. We were looking for another product to make in this location and because our tradition business, textile chemicals, was going down the drain.
Myself plus Kai, my plant manager, are motor heads, we like motors, engines, tinkering with things and I came across biodiesel from one of my competitors actually, he mentioned it to me, so I Googled it and that is how the whole journey started.
Andy : We spent just over a year in learning how to make it to ASTM standards. In very small batches in my lab first of all, less than a litre at a time.Some of our smaller machinery (was first used) for 100-200 litres at a time. Ran all of that through our van, which is a Ford E350 7.3 diesel engine. After that we increased to our next biggest machine, which makes 3,000 litres at a time and started to sell it locally, small amounts to local guys with the Jettas and TDI’s ect. That’s how it started.
LE: As far as permiting goes, did you find that to be a huge hurdle or …?
Andy: No, It’s a very long process. I apllied for all the permits required and it took about 6 months to get. And, of course, that didn’t stop me.
LE : Your biodiesel production has gone through upgrades since you first started, not the least of which is the method used to purify the settled fuel. Can you elaborate on the history of what brought you to where you are now with this new method and the medias you looked at ?
Andy: Ok, we started getting interested in “dry wash” media probably two years ago, simply because water washing takes forever and isn’t that kind on the environment. In our operation here it takes on average 2 1/2 to 3 days to water wash a batch and, that, is just, too long.
In the lab we looked at several of the medias, the Purolite, and the Thermax and found then to be excellent, but I was a little nervous about the price,the cost of these resins. RolfQuo’s twin reactors
RolfQuo’s Twin Reactors & 2,000Lt Methoxide tank
Andy: Oh, absolutely ! They live up to their reputations.
LE: But price-wise they are a bit prohibitive ?
Andy: Exactly. You know, we are a small operation here, we built everything out of used equipment ourselves and can’t afford to buy a lot of fancy equipment and the resin itself.
LE: So now you are using hard wood chips, as a purifier.
LE: And that has eliminated water washing altogether. You use no resins or any other method ?
Andy: Nothing at all.
LE: Can you describe the process briefly.
Andy: What we do is that once the batch is deemed good, which is ASTM quality for glycerin, the test we use here. After the glycerine has settled we run the test for glycerine content. After that we flash off the residual methanol from the bidoiesel, and quite frankly, there is very little left. And then at that point it is passed through the wood chips.
200Lt drums of woodchips
RolfQuo’s twin sets of wood chip drums.
Andy: Typically we start with soap values anywhere from 300 to 800 ppm before it goes through the wood chips and at the end it is from zero to 50 ppm .
LE: So, well within ASTM regs ?
Andy: Well within those boundaries, yes. One thing I would like to mention is that we will be looking at different systems, physically. It is based on drums right now, steel drums, but I want to build two proper towers. Mostly because I can’t get the flow rate I want from the drums; right now we can run about 2000 – 3000 litres a shift through there and I need to be higher than that.
LE: So about 2000 to 3000 litres per 8 hour shift ?
Andy: That’s right, but I want to be at least 10,000 litres, maybe 20 .
LE: And you have just the one shift ?
Andy: At the moment.
Andy: At the moment ? There are several, but the biggest one at the moment is price. To produce biodiesel is not cheap. Even from used cooking oil.
LE: Is it because you have to pay for the oil ?
Andy: I personally don’t collect it, as you know, so yes I have to pay for the oil, but also the methanol and the sulfuric acid, because we do acid base base, and caustic potash because that is what we use not caustic soda.
Andy: Like I said, we are definetly going to build proper, faster flow ion exchange towers but they will be filled with wood chips.
LE: So, wood chips are definetly the way to go ?
Andy: Yup, yup, yup, definetly, we’re convinced. Can’t beat the price, and they work very very well. The most important thing is to properly prepare them though. Very important. We put them through 3 bed volumes of methanol, and then 3 bed volumes of clean biodiesel before we use them.
Another procedure we will be incorporating into our operation is to pre-treat our used oil with acid, acid and methanol, in a separate process to speed up the rest of the process. Right now it takes anywhere from a day and a half to two days just to do the acid step, so we’re going to separate that. Right now we do it all in one reactor, so I’ll be doing the acid step elsewhere and then putting it in the reactor and then do the base base step. And quite often it is not just base base, but base base base.
LE: So it’s tested at each level ?
Andy: Exactly . I always do two base steps, and if necessary I’ll do a third.
LE: So you’ll test to see what the quality is and then adjust it if needed ?
Andy: Sometimes we could just barely pass after one base step but we don’t, I always do another.
LE: To make sure.
Andy: To make sure. We put our biodiesel in anything from a 1972 Bluebird school bus to a 2007 CDi Mercedes.
LE: Are you gearing up for the Federal Government’s introduction in 2012 of mandatory biodiesel in pump fuel ?
Andy: I’m presently looking for funding. In order to do that I need a different plant in a different place, something much bigger, 20 times what we are now.
LE: So, you are actively looking for financing to expand ?
Andy: Yes, I am in the process of writting a business plan right now.
Kai: Volume capacity ? Well, if we had to go full-tilt we probably could empty both reactors twice a week.
LE: What are the sizes of the reactors ?
Kai: One is at 10,000 and the other at 8,000 Lt’s.
LE: So that is about 36,000Lt’s per week ?
Kai: Yes, approximately, but that would be the maximum output. And this is using only used cooking oil.
LE: You have a fairly unique methoxide mixing tank, can you describe that ?
Kai: Unique ? When adding the caustic into the methanol there is that exothermic reaction, and so it must be added very slowly so as to not build up pressure, but with the water jacket to cool this down as it goes the caustic can be added much quicker, and it’s much safer.
LE: You started using wood chips for purification of the biodiesel instead of water, and as Andy said earlier, you’ve looked at resins and all kinds of other methods. Can you describe how you prepare and use the chips ?
Kai: So far we are having the chips given to us, so no need to buy at this point. They come from lumber mills and is all hard wood. We would run methanol through there first to remove any resins from the wood or whatnot and the procedure is pretty easy; you fill up the drum and run methanol through basically until it runs clear.
At first it runs yellow, and sometimes even a little red. Once it runs clear you put maybe another 200Lt’s through just to be sure you got all the resins out. And then you force that out with at least 200 to 600Lt’s of finished biodiesel through it.
Kai: Yes, per drum, but everything is reclaimed. You can use the methanol in a new batch and the biodiesel is reprocessed So nothing is wasted. The biodiesel flushes any methanol that may still be in the chips, and when we start we are sure all the methanol is out and the drums are already full of finished bio. Then we start a production run. We use little air pumps, so we can go pretty much at full speed, which will give us a tote, say 1,000Lt’s in, best guess, couple of hours.
LE: That’s not bad, 500Lt’s an hour flow rate ?
Kai: That’s right. What we have here looks like one, but is actually two columns, and you are dumping them into the same tote.
LE: Ok, so you have a two tier set up, and basically your right top drums dump into the bottom right drums and the same for the left side, and for that you use a small air pump ?
Kai: Yes, and surprisingly it requires almost no pressure, just enough to get it moving, and then it flows. If you put a little pressure you can get really going but too fast isn’t good, you’re not getting suficient residence time to get all the soaps out. It is fascinating, but it has it’s limits obviously. If you are starting with 3,000ppm soap or something it won’t take that out in one shot.
LE: So, you’ll have to run it through a couple times ?
Kai: It is even set up that we can circulate it if we had to. We can just run it over and over if we had to. But if you are starting with 800ppm soap or less it does a really good job, it gets down pretty much to zero.
LE: In one pass and you’re good to go ?
Kai: Yes. Even if if you start with a thousand, worst case scenario, you’re starting with a thousand, you have to slow it down to get your zero.
LE: But that is definetly a much more environmentally friendly method of purification than say, water.
Kai: We must have passed at least 50,000 litres; I don’t have the exact numbers but it is at least that.
LE: Through one set of 4, 200Lt drums (800Lt’s of wood chips) ?
Kai: Yes, one set. The rates vary with what you start with. If the soap content is high you have to go slow. If we get a reading of 200ppm starting out we can then crank it up to the max and the biodiesel comes out at zero ppm for soap.
LE: Excellent system, What do you do with the spent chips, or have you had to deal with that yet ?
Kai: So far we’ve not had to deal with that. But we have discussed it; we can pretty much press all the bio out of there, and then what is left isn’t dangerous, it’s wood chips and non toxic residual biodiesel. Finding a home for it shouldn’t be that hard.
Kai: It’s to find the volume sales. Right now the price of pump fuel is considerably less than last year. Everyone seems to think that used cooking oil is like gold. The brokers are charging alot for it. As you convert it, the margins are so small. We can strive to be more efficient, and we do, but you still have to do that reaction.
LE: You have already taken a great step in becoming more efficient with the wood chips.
Kai: That is a definite boon. We hope things will take a turn for the better in the near future.
LE: When more people will become more environmentally conscious and opt for biodiesel rather than the petroleum products, even if there is a price spread.
LE: All of a sudden they’re not so green anymore …
LE: Do you offer percentage blends or is the biodiesel neat ?
Kai: We don’t do any blending here. Then you would be dealing with a flamable product which entails all kinds of supplemental regulations. There are already entities out there that do that, and it is much easier to stay with a product that is not flamable and let them do it.
RolfQuo Biodiesel can be reached Monday through Friday EST from 08:00 – 16:00. It must be said here that Mr. Bill “Jehu” Guyan of Scotland is credited with inspiring RolfQuo’s decision to use hard wood chips with his tireless research into thsi subject.
Jehu posts at The InfoPop Biodiesel forum