Notes from the Collective Biodiesel Conference

Closing notes from the 2014 Collective Biodiesel Conference, including Bob Armantrout's tongue-in-cheek Six Stages of Biodiesel Fanaticism
By Ron Kotrba | August 20, 2014

I just returned from the 2014 Collective Biodiesel Conference in Pittsboro, N.C., and what a great event it was. Biodiesel Magazine is proud to have been a sponsor of the event where our July/August issue—featuring Winnsboro, S.C.-based small producer Midlands Biofuels on the cover—was distributed. The conference highlighted much of the production, distribution and retail issues small producers and co-ops deal with on a day-to-day basis, and the open-source nature of many of the discussions was a refreshing break from the protective stance taken by some of the larger players in the industry.

I would like to take this opportunity to give a special thank you to three individuals: Lyle Estill of Piedmont Biofuels, co-host of the event along with Central Carolina Community College (where the sessions were held); Graydon Blair of Utah Biodiesel Supply; and Bob Armantrout, formerly with Pacific Biodiesel and Rocky Mountain Biodiesel, and currently with CCCC and Altadore Investments.

Lyle made the event very special with the plant tour of Piedmont Biofuels and his accommodating nature during the evening events. Spending one-on-one conversation time with Lyle at the tasting room of the on-site distillery was an inspiring treat; and the Mardi Gras-style parade he organized through the plant grounds Saturday evening was fun and festive. Lyle said he plans to post the parade on YouTube once he pulls all the clips together and edits them, so keep an eye out for that.  

Graydon’s continued involvement and leadership in the CBC is also inspirational, and I thank you for keeping us at Biodiesel Magazine involved and informed on many levels. It would be hard to imagine this event, or this industry, without your personal dedication, expertise and hands-on involvement.

And what can I say about Bob? His knowledge, acumen and stance in the biodiesel world—even in his self-described realism as “Bummer Bob”—are incredible. Thanks to Bob for his hospitable, accommodating and warm nature. His kind words at the start of the second day of the event about Biodiesel Magazine and its evolved inclusion of the small producer was touching, and I can’t thank him enough for that. Bob’s experience and drive are truly remarkable.

Bob kicked off the conference with a 45-minute talk titled “What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been,” borrowed from the popular Grateful Dead song “Truckin’.” Bob got his start in biodiesel in 2000 in Maui. He was the operations manager for Pacific Biodiesel before moving to Colorado in 2005 working with Rocky Mountain Biodiesel. In 2007, he moved to Denton, Texas, working for Biodiesel Industries and helped design a 10 MMgy biodiesel plant to be located in Detroit, but the plant was never built. In 2012-’13, Bob spent time in Africa working on the FS2BD project (fecal sludge to biodiesel). He said this year he hopes to co-author a book with Lyle.

Bob’s presentation included what he referred to as “the six stages of biodiesel fanaticism,” which provided comedy relief to the conference attendees.

Stage One: Love at First Site

Stage Two: The Honeymoon (fact finding and evangelism)

Stage Three: Nest Building (buying a new diesel car, securing feedstock, buying process equipment)

Stage Four: Maturity (routine production, process development)

Stage Five: Disillusionment (what to do with side streams like the “wall” of glycerin, equipment issues and grease wars)

Stage Six: Divestment

“Biodiesel is easy to understand, it’s easy to do and it’s socially responsible on many levels,” Bob said. Biodiesel is attractive and habit-forming mainly because of the people involved, he noted. Biodiesel is less about the fuel and it’s more about the relationships that are made with the great biodiesel people—folks who have an intellectual curiosity that’s unparalleled in other industries. Thanks Bob, well said. I look forward to next year’s event.