by Nicholas Chambers

The Collective Biodiesel Conference is an internationally-attended conference of DIY (do-it-yourself) practioners, academics, biodiesel co-ops, bio-fuel plant operators, executives, visionaries, and mad scientists.  It was founded over 10 years ago at the Colorado School of Mines and has since been hosted all over North America.  It is a multi-faceted platform to learn, discuss, and share current tricks and methods of the trade as well as immerse oneself in the over-arching concepts of sustainability, appropriate technology, and bio-chemistry.  This article is a recap summary of this historic event held in Crestone last August.

The conference was held at the Crestone Charter School, catered by OFIA. It brought in over 40 people, almost exclusively from out of town.  We had a day and a half of presentations and discussions, with another evening previewing the film Fuel

Standard to any CBC event, co-founder John Bush and the Omaha Biofuels Coop folks ran the group through the chemistry of biodiesel production in the CCS chemistry lab. There were also presentations on natural building, solar, adobe construction, and climate battery greenhouses as a part of the normal Energy Fair programming.

We had a 10 kw woodchip gasifier genset made by All Power Labs in Berkeley, CA that Santa Fe Community College loaned to us for the event, and Agua Das had his woodchip gasifier forge there as well.  Together with a tool box, air compressor, a couple of torches, a barrel of mitigation piñon-juniper wood chips, some screens, and the general resources of downtown Crestone at the Energy Fair, this group was like kids in a candy store. 

It wasn’t long before we had a bona fide three-ring circus going on.  We had a team screening and sifting woodchips into gasifer-for-electricity chips and gasifer-for-forge chips, another team smashing up beer cans and scavenging Drew Snyder’s old aluminum window frames for smelting, and another team rounding up sand from the adobe demonstration to make a sand casting.

Das had the crucible in the forge red hot and they were throwing in beer cans and chunks of window frames.  A couple sand beds had been made and a grenade and wrench was pushed in to make a negative.  When completely melted, Das grabbed the crucible with long tongs and carefully poured the molten aluminum in the sand molds.  Right about this time Matthew Human took the stage and wooed the Crestone community with songs of love, the simple life, good food, and biodiesel sedans!

Front and center to all this spontaneous thermal action were Bill and Tina from Waste Free SLV.  Naturally, the upcycling of aluminum cans with renewable energy is of great interest to them.  Most of the CBC attendees I think were blown away with this direct application of woodchip energy, as they all knew the science and theory. But to have a project everybody could jump in on was really memorable. Thanks to all who helped pull this event off, especially all the sponsors: Donovan Spitzman, ScSEED, Alycia Chambers, and Nathan Good.   

For 2016, check out the Energy Fair at the Crestone Music Festival, August 12-14.  To get involved contact Donovan at or 303-868-6352.

For folks interested in advancing biodiesel, SVO, anaerobic digestion, or wood chip gasification in the SLV, contact Nick at or 719-588-8245.

2015 Conference highlights:

“Municipal Field to Tank Biodiesel,” Ben Doon, Co-Manager/Administrator, Costilla County Biodiesel

The Costilla County biodiesel program is by far the valley’s most established and most noteworthy biodiesel producer, and they merit national recognition.  The work they have done is a testament to what can happen when a group of committed individuals decides on a bold vision and has the tenacity to roll up its sleeves to accomplish something where there is no precedent.

Administrator and project champion Ben Doon opened the conference with the twisting but ever-successful story of their biodiesel plant.  The project was first conceptualized in 2001 by then Commissioner Joseph Gallegos.  They began construction in 2004 and they went through several design strategies and changes to now have something that works well for their road and bridge department, fueling their trucks, graders, and other vehicles. 

The oil comes from Costilla County farmers providing sunflower and canola seeds, which are then pressed to extract the oils.  The seedcake is then a high-protein animal feed that goes back into local agriculture.  If there is ever a story of closed-loop sustainability that is good for government, the environment, and agriculture, this county sure has an excellent model to emulate.  Keep it up Costilla County!

“Biodiesel Research & Education at the University of Idaho,” Keegan Duff, University of Idaho

Keegan Duff made his way here from his lab at the University of Idaho where they have been working in biodiesel since 1979.  Keegan is responsible for the analytical laboratory for the Biofuels Research group in the Biological Engineering Department at the University of Idaho.  He discussed some higher level chemistry with conference attendees, as well as discussed his pilot-scale waste-oil-to-biodiesel plant, and some of the curriculums they have created for high school students.  He had prior experience as a plant engineer for a 40 million gallons per year (mgy) canola crushing facility and start-up of a 0.5 mgy biodiesel plant.

“WVO Processing,” Scott Williams, PhD, Managing Director, Omaha Biofuels Co-op

Brothers Scott and Eric Williams came out from Omaha to show us some of their novel straight vegetable oil (SVO) processing techniques, as well as to share details about how their coop works.  Dr. Scott Williams had just accepted a position as Assistant Professor in the Energy Technology Program at Creighton University in Omaha.  As a coop, they process recycled vegetable oils into fuel-grade SVO for SVO-adapted cars or for use in biodiesel production.  They also landed a good contract with the Henry Doorly Zoo where they provide SVO for use in the zoo’s open combustion boiler that powers a train.   

“Biodiesel & Biogas Synergy,” Doug Renk, Biological Commissioning Engineer, BioFerm Energy Systems

Some Crestone Eagle readers may be familiar with the Viessmann gas boilers and solar thermal panels that Talmath Lakai and myself have installed in the Crestone/Baca area.  Viessmann is actually a very large German company that owns an anaerobic digestion company called Bioferm Energy.  We had the fortune of getting Doug Renk to join us from Wisconsin who had a wealth of background experience in biodiesel and anaerobic digestion as a Biological Commissioning Engineer for Bioferm. 

Bioferm has a very unique and counter-intuitive anaerobic digestion technology.  The basics are that organic material (food waste, manure, etc.) is loaded into huge bays and piled up on the floor.  Large garage-type doors are closed, a vacuum is pulled on the bay, and the resulting gases coming off the organics (carbon dioxide, methane, etc.) over the next 30-60 days is drawn into large storage bags.  The solution of gases are what is called biogas and, at large scales, is used for running combined heat and power plants, or cleaned up and injected into the natural gas grid, or compressed and put into carbon fiber tanks to power buses and cars.

Doug was making a clear case that every biodiesel plant should be coupled with an anaerobic digestion plant because biodiesel makes a lot of organic, liquid by-products (oil sludge, french fry residue, glycerin, etc.) and these liquids are like Red Bull for the micro-organisms responsible for biogas generation.  Chances are you will see Doug again in Crestone in the near future.        

Santa Fe Community College Biofuels Lab & Biofuels Center of Excellence staff presentations

“Superciritcal Biodiesel,” Stephen Gomez PhD, Chair and Assistant Professor

Dr. Gomez delivered a sweeping presentation of Supercritical Biodiesel production (using high heat and pressure).  In this production process low quality feedstocks that have high quantities of water, such as trap grease or poor quality yellow grease (SVO), can be used without affecting the process.  Also, you don’t have to use a catalyst in supercritical, so that expense is saved, plus catalysts (sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide) can cause downstream issues, especially in the presence of water.   This process truly makes gold out of the lowest possible quality feedstocks.

“Photo-Bioreactors and State of Algae in the Southwest,” Luke Spangenburg, Director

As a technology developer of algae photo-bioreactors (PBRs), a consultant on large biofuel projects, and as Director of the SFCC Biofuels Center of Excellence, Luke discussed current projects and the trials and tribulations of getting projects off the ground.

“Using Wastes for Food, Fuel, and Water,” Steve Hansen, AgPower

Steve Hansen has been teaching water and waste water treatment programs at the college after a long career working in the field.  His presentation focused on how the basic necessity of waste water treatment can yield useful products and that there is no such thing as “waste water.”  The process of treatment can also be coupled with other processes to yield maximum benefit, such as a treatment plant capable of taking extra organic solids to augment its anaerobic digestion process and biogas production potential. 

“Tropical Institute for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Agriculture” Willaim Torres-Longo, TISARE, Puerto Rico

Mr. Torres-Longo comes out of a long career in agronomy and telecommunications before starting intensive studies in the Advanced Trades and Technologies Department at the college.  His project in his native Puerto Rico, TISARE, is planned to utilize a number of process that all complement one another.  Electricity and propane are all very expensive in Puerto Rico, which makes biomass-based renewable energy and food production attractive investments.

“Flo-cam,” Ondine Frauenglass, Assistant Director

The Crestone and Collective Biodiesel community were so lucky to get the SFCC folks to come to the event in force.  Not only did their presence, presentations, and discussions lend a huge value to the event, but they brought or loaned some amazing equipment.  Ondine set up the flo-cam which is like a video microscope for looking the amazing microscopic world of aquatic biology.  They use this in algae cultures to identify what species are present in the culture, and what other critters are also in there, such as rotifers who actually eat algae.

“B100 in Heavy-Duty Fleets,” Kevin Smith, Mechanical Engineer, Optimus Technologies 

Kevin drove all the way from Pittsburg in a heavy duty semi-type truck that had the Optimus system on board.  Optimus produces a next generation dual diesel fuel system specifically designed for large, heavy duty trucks that can be used with biodiesel in all temperatures, as well as SVO.  The system relies on two tanks, one with regular diesel and the other is heated from the engine coolant.  There are also separate filters, pumps, and electronics to give the operator a comprehensive control panel in the cab.  Optimus believes this system will be a valuable tool for truck fleets across the nation to easily meet renewable energy targets.

“Direct Consumer Marketing of Biodiesel,” Brian Roberts, Cowichan Bio-Diesel Co-op

Brian came from Vancouver Island to share the details of actually getting coop-produced biodiesel into the hands of everyday fuel users.  A veteran of the CBC, and former host, he gave an inspiring presentation about decentralized and unattended fueling stations, coop memberships, and the technology choices to make it all happen.

“Wood Chip Gasifcation, CHP, & the Future of Combustion,” Agua Das, Green Sources

Agua Das is no stranger to the Crestone Energy Fair or the CBC, having attended both for many years.  Das gave a quick tour de force of the place woodchip gasification has in the renewable energy portfolio and its many attributes.  Once we got down to the park and broke out the woodchips, gasifers, forges, and tools, that’s when Das really had a chance to spread his wings to astound and confound!

“Integration of Sustainable Renewables,” Jeff Rola, Go Bio Co

We were lucky to get Jeff Rola to come to the fair this year, as he sponsored the t-shirt theme: “Bio-Curious?” He got us all to pull the chairs in a circle and inspired a discussion about what’s really going on, how do we integrate everything we’ve talked about, and what’s firing people up.  Once the momentum got going and time was up, he had to get in there to pull the plug as the group could have keep going and going!

“Water/Methanol Injection for IC Engines” Eric Maki, Machine Whisperer

Crestone’s own Eric Maki gave an interesting discussion of the merits of water/methanol injection for internal combustion engines.  This approach cools the temperatures of the cylinders for enhanced power and remarkably better fuel efficiency.  Eric has installed a couple of systems in the Crestone/Baca area and has had road miles as testament. Check out