BioDiesel Co-op?

The word "small" simply isn't part of Tom Fouts vocabulary.

He and his wife, sister-in-law and her husband were looking for a place together on Guemes. When his sister-in-law, Deb, discovered a one-acre, fully-enclosed, horse arena halfway up the side of Guemes Mountain, they knew they'd found what they were after. That it had been built in an area where it was impossible to pasture horses didn't bother them for a second. They built out one end of the arena to be Tom's home and shop, the other end was built out to be his sister-in-law's residence. Their heavy equipment parked nicely in the three-quarter-acre "garage" between their homes. The hot tub was put in an old horse stall and Tom and Deb were ready to begin where most people would stop.
Tom's garage

"If Deb is anything, she's determined," Tom notes. (This from the horse's mouth.) With a flat-bed, a dump truck, a backhoe, a few assorted tractors, and a big chunk of land to work, he needed an efficient and convenient source of fuel. Rather than install a large diesel tank and a pump in the back of a pickup, they went into the BioDiesel business.

"She's the one who challenged me about the bio-diesel project and was hands on building the reactor. She has also been a significant contributor in the organizational structure of the on-going process."

What is BioDiesel? Well, diesel fuel comes from the ground. It's a petroleum distillate, just like gasoline and plastic. BioDiesel is made from vegetable oil. No drilling of vegetable oil wells. No peninsula-sized, vegetable-oil refineries required to crack petroleum distillates. All BioDiesel requires is a decent source of vegetable oil. Yup, the same thing food is fried in. As a matter of fact, exactly the stuff food is fried in.

Here's where the road splits a little bit. There is virgin oil and recovered oil. Each has its advantages. Virgin oil comes directly from grown crops, corn for example. The drawback here is energy must be spent to plant, tend, harvest, and process the crops to get the oil. This adds to the cost of the final BioDiesel until it is little cheaper than petroleum diesel. However, remember the bit about no vegetable oil wells. Totally renewable. All you need is farmland. That's a nice advantage, and the resulting BioDiesel fuel can be excellent.
BioDiesel based on recovered, used, oil is a favorite of the "home cooker." It starts with a different and less expensive source. Restaurants usually have to pay to have old oil removed and carted away for processing and proper disposal once they're done with it.

Tom offered to gather it for free. He gave each restaurant a 55-gallon drum. "Dump it in there when you're done frying with it." Once a month, he takes his truck over, pumps out the barrels and heads home with a tank of used vegetable oil. Not just any restaurant will do. "Some use better types of oil for BioDiesel processing. And some, they just use it to death. Trying to make BioDiesel out of MacDonald's oil is a complete waste of time. They've used the oil until there is nothing useful left in it at all. I look for higher end restaurants." He is currently working with Anderson's Store about the type of fryer oil they use as well. "If their food is as good or better, and the oil doesn't cost them more, I can get better results from particular oils."

But recovered oil isn't for all seasons. "I can run BioDiesel for about 9 months of the year. No conversion to my equipment is needed. No loss of power either, it all runs without a problem. But December through February the fuel remembers its origins and tries to turn back into peanut butter inside the engine. It doesn't work as well then." He could put heaters in every vehicle's fuel tank and run them through the winter, but then he faces increased energy bills or having to wait a few hours between turning on a heater and using the vehicle. "I use conventional diesel then. I'm nor running much equipment in the winter anyway."

How does vegetable oil get from the deep-fat fryer into a gas tank? Well, it can't simply be poured. BioDiesel is cooked. Tom's "kitchen" sits on a small trailer in his shop.
Mobile Fuel Cooker

"It takes about three days to cook a batch in the reactor (the silver tank at the front of the trailer). I have to do three to four hours of work over those three days. The process doesn't take long, but it is a bit fussy, heating and cooling, additives and stirring, draining off the byproducts." One of the major byproducts is glycerin, gallons of it. Tom sells it to people who clean it further and put it in lotions, hydraulic fluid, and other lubricants. "It offsets the cost of the BioDiesel a little bit."

A gallon of BioDiesel costs Tom around $1.40, that's not a typo. That includes the energy to process it all, the ferry fee and fuel (biodiesel) to fetch the oil, even the consumables, such as filters. "I make one batch a week, about 35-40 gallons. Plenty to operate all my equipment."

But, the word "small" simply isn't part of Tom's vocabulary. He has his eye on a bigger cooker. "I'd like to start a Guemes Island BioDiesel cooperative. I'll supply the equipment. Glad to share it. We'd work together to gather the oil and cook it."

Anyone interested in running your diesel car, truck, or tractor on fuel that costs under half the going rate? Interested in fuel that comes from plants rather than vast holes in the ground? Want to come play!? Contact Tom at: or talk to him the next time you see his truck in the ferry line coming back with a load of used vegetable oil on his way to cook some BioDiesel.

Biodiesel -cleaner burning & renewable

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