Springing Towards Applied Skills

A new biodiesel processor is installed at Arkansas State University
By Erin Voegele | February 09, 2011

California-based Springboard Biodiesel LLC has reached a new benchmark. More than 50 universities and school systems in the U.S. have now installed its BioPro biodiesel processing equipment. The latest system has been installed at Arkansas State University, where it will be used for both educational and research purposes.

The BioPro processor is housed in a research lab located on ASU’s farm. According to Kevin Humphrey, the university’s director of agricultural education and a researcher focused on biofuels and biobased products, there are several reasons he chose to install a BioPro system in his lab. He says he needed something that was automated, featured durable components, and was self-contained.

Since students will be interacting with the system, safety was also a key concern. Humphrey notes that the system’s control of hazardous  ingredients was particularly attractive. Special attention has been paid to the safety parameters of the BioPro system, says Springboard CEO Mark Roberts. “The units are made out of stainless steel,” Roberts says. “They are designed with safety in mind, so all the motors are explosion proof. It’s a fully automated system. The way it’s constructed you don’t have to interact with caustic chemicals after you’ve loaded the machine. It’s well ventilated.”

ASU’s system will be used to process a wide range of feedstocks into biodiesel. Some feedstocks, such as soybeans, camelina and canola, can be sourced directly from the university’s farm. “I have storage capacity now that can auger the feedstocks into my lab, and then clean and crush them to produce oil—which is pure clean oil,” Humphrey says. “At the same time, I am working on a system to pick up used oil [in a similar fashion].” Used cooking oil to feed the processor will be sourced from local restaurants. It is also possible that crop-based feedstocks could be purchased from local farmers.

Humphrey’s lab also includes an engine testing cell. Some of the biodiesel produced at the lab will be used for testing purchases in small diesel engines. We also plan to use the fuel in some of our on-farm equipment, Humphrey says. In addition, there are plans to approach ASU’s facility management team in hopes of running the fuel in some on-campus vehicles.

The BioPro system will also be used as an educational tool for students. One benefit of the system Humphrey is building in his lab is that students will be able see a complete biorefining system in action—from cultivating feedstocks, to processing the resulting oils into a finished product.

The biodiesel production equipment will also help Humphrey meet his goal of supplying more skill-based knowledge to students. “A couple of the other professors and I are trying to get a whole lot more applied skills to our students,” he says. “It’s good to have theory—you need to have theory—but the marriage of theory and applied [skills] is really important to us. We’re really trying to build up our [renewable energy technology] program in the College of Agriculture and Technology, and provide these types of applied skill opportunities to our students.”

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