County celebrates return to biodiesel production


Published: Monday, July 15, 2013 at 5:39 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, July 15, 2013 at 5:39 p.m.

After a hiatus of more than half a year, Alachua County is resuming biodiesel production thanks to a new law championed by the area's state legislative delegation that makes related reporting requirements more manageable.

Florida legislators Rob Bradley, Keith Perry and Clovis Watson Jr. visited the Alachua County Hazardous Waste Collection Center in Gainesville on Monday morning along with county commissioners and staff to commemorate the local government's return to biodiesel.

During its spring session, the Florida Legislature approved biodiesel legislation that was ranked as one of the County Commission's top legislative priorities. The new law exempts counties, municipalities and school districts from a former requirement that mandated they maintain a fuel wholesaler license in order to produce biodiesel fuel for internal use.

The county began using waste vegetable oil to create biodiesel, which can be blended with typical diesel fuel for use in vehicles, in 2010. It halted its biodiesel production in December because it wasn't worth continuing the effort under the previous reporting requirements, county Environmental Protection Director Chris Bird said.

Staff then started working on legislation to address the issue, which succeeded.

Now, the county is resuming its biodiesel production. It uses the biodiesel in its garbage trucks primarily, but it can also use a biodiesel-fueled generator to power the entire Hazardous Waste Collection Center.

That can come in handy during a power outage or hurricane-level emergency, Bird said.

It costs about $2 a gallon to produce biodiesel, which is a cost savings since diesel fuel for its garbage trucks can cost upwards of $3.50 a gallon.

"It's saving money. It's helping the environment," he said. "It's kind of a no-brainer."

Instead of pouring used vegetable oil down the drain, residents and local restaurants can drop it off at the hazardous waste center or at one of the county's Rural Collection Centers so it can be put to good use. Biodiesel production is especially cost-effective for the county because it is doing it on a small scale, Bird said.

Bradley, Perry and Watson each spoke Monday before a group of about 20 people, which included County Commissioners Charles "Chuck" Chestnut IV, Robert "Hutch" Hutchinson and Lee Pinkoson and several county staff members.

Perry thanked the county's communications coordinator, Mark Sexton, for his work promoting the legislation in Tallahassee and said the new law will encourage schools and small municipalities to follow Alachua County's example and begin producing their own biodiesel fuel.

Bradley said the legislation was a win-win from a financial and environmental perspective and said he and his fellow legislators' work with the county in Tallahassee helped establish a good relationship moving forward.

"I think we really began laying the groundwork for a partnership," he said.

After the legislators and a few other people spoke, county staff briefly walked everyone through the biodiesel process. People drop off their used bottles of vegetable oil at the collection center, and the liquid goes into containers, where it is filtered and as much water is separated from the substance as possible. Fatty acids eventually are extracted from the vegetable oil, which then goes through several processes, including glycerol extraction, to be turned into biodiesel fuel.

Mike Keim, an environmental specialist with the county, gave the visitors a gander at what biodiesel fuel actually looks like, filling a large measuring cup with a blue gas-pump nozzle. The fuel he poured out was dark amber in color.

A square, transportable generator that was marked with information on the biodiesel process stood beside the production machinery.

"When that generator is running, everyone walks around here hungry," Keim said. "That fried-food smell is hard not to salivate over."

Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or morgan.watkins@gainesville.com.

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