Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Fairfield aims to clean up on biofuel

Morning Sentinel

BY MORNING SENTINEL STAFF Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel 03/23/2008

FAIRFIELD -- With the purchase of a simple $40 filter, the Fairfield Highway Department recently converted one of its one-ton trucks to run on biodiesel, a fuel made from used cooking oil.

Adding a plus factor to the story is the fact that the biofuel is being manufactured right there in the town of Fairfield, Town Manager Paul Blanchette said.

Linda Howe, 52, and her son Ralph Howe Jr., 29, both of China, moved their biofuel manufacturing plant -- Bio Renewable Fuels -- to Fairfield from China, where planners two years ago rejected their permit application.

They moved to the U.S. Route 201 Business Center, home to Freihofer's Baking Co., Leaps-n-Bounds dance studio and other businesses across the road from the Irving service station.

The goal this year is to produce as much as 30,000 gallons of fuel a week, or 1.4 million gallons by the end of the year, Blanchette said.

"It's only the one-ton truck, because we're trying it out, but we're getting it from them," Blanchette said. "Anything that operates on diesel can burn biofuel. We added an extra filter because biofuel is cleaner than diesel and diesel leaves a lot of sludge in that tank.

"When you introduce biofuel, it cleans up the dredges of the tank, so we put another filter in to catch that stuff," he said.

Blanchette said the company is operating on $59,000 from the town of Fairfield's revolving loan fund. Payments on that loan are due to start in May, he said.

"Right now what they are using to make it is Fryolator grease and they are using brown grease from restaurant grease traps," Blanchette said. "And they use brown grease from sanitary treatment plants -- they have a grease that floats that they skim off -- that's brown grease, too."

The company also can make home heating oil, depending on the grade that is being manufactured, Blanchette said. A paper mill in eastern Maine also is using the biofuel from the Fairfield company, he said.

Ralph Howe Jr. said one gallon of grease can make almost a full gallon of bio-fuel after it is processed. The rest is glycerin, which also is sold.

As they were building the plant, they made batches of biofuel and shipped loads on occasion, but now they are ready to step up production, he said.

"We're making the process a little better, tweaking machines and making sure the fuel meets specifications," Howe said.

Linda Howe said the family made the fuel and used it in their own vehicles beginning in 2004, but it was not for sale.

"It was test batching; it was a pilot program," she said.

Ralph Howe Jr. said the company takes in mostly waste grease collected from restaurants.

"We warm it up and take out the chunks, like French fries and bottle caps and most everything else," he said. "We run it through a screen mechanism, then we heat it up to drive out any water."

The material is run through a process that separates the organic vegetable matter from the glycerin. Methanol is mixed with sodium hydroxide and a centrifuge is used to separate the two, Howe said.

The light, clear fuel oil rises to the top and the glycerin drops to the bottom. The oil is collected and pumped into tanks, ready for market.

The Howes are listed at the Bureau of Corporations at the Secretary of State's office as having first filed as a Maine company in 2006.

The China Planning Board rejected their permit in 2005. The Appeals Board agreed a year later, saying noise, vibrations, fumes and odors would disrupt the rural way of life.

The board also said the water supply was inadequate for manufacturing and fire protection.

Blanchette said there is town water going right to the site on U.S. Route 201, so that will not be a problem and that the Howes did not require much in the way of permits to operate, it being an industrial/commercial zone.

Town Code Enforcement Officer Cynthia Tuttle said the company needed only a $35 development permit, which they have secured.

Fire inspector Capt. Jim Lane of the Fairfield Fire Department said he has visited the site a couple of times and that the plant is good to go.

Blanchette said the next step for biofuel use in Fairfield is to get the stuff burning in furnaces in town buildings, both as a "green" way of heating and at a savings to the town of an estimated $1.25 per gallon once conversions are done.

"In some aspects, you want to use it because you are not burning petroleum products," he said. "And we all know there is a petroleum/energy problem. If you can burn something else or use something else, you can help in not burning foreign oil.

"I think it burns cleaner and we can cut our heating bill for the town. If we can do that, and it's successful, we can save the town some money," Blanchette said.

Doug Harlow -- 861-9244


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