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[imgcontainer] [img:John_methanol_tank_horz.jpg] [source]Photo by Vermont Bioenergy Initiative[/source]
John Williamson, the owner and operator of State Line Farm Biofuels in Shaftsbury, Vermont, began processing his own biofuel in 2004 by experimenting with sunflowers, canola, mustard and flax seed.
Now he’s helping other farmers in his region make the transition to biofuel by sharing his knowledge and production capacity. Instead of producing just his own fuel, he’s helping others with biofuel production services.
He says his facility is “like a train that people can get on and off at any point along the process – at any station.”
State Line Biofuels operates a 300-gallon batch oilseed biodiesel production facility, providing biofuel and livestock meal for on-farm use. When he’s not processing his own biofuels, he offers various services that go into making different forms of biofuel. One farmer may take seeds to State Line to be cleaned, dried, or pressed. Someone else might want to convert used cooking oil into biodiesel. This open model creates more opportunities to do business and to diversity his income.
State Line Farm Biofuels provides combine (harvesting) services to nearby farms such as Clear Brook Farm and True Love Farm. They have even helped to harvest pennycress, an experimental oilseed crop for Tiashoke Farm in Easton, New York.
State Line presses oilseeds for each of these farms as well as Lawes Ag in Brandon, Vermont, and Wood’s Market Garden in Brandon, Vermont. Williamson also receives unique pressing requests for smaller scale producers, including soybeans for a sheep farm in Massachusetts and safflower for a cosmetics company in New York City. The biodiesel processing equipment is used to make fuel for most of these and several other farms and also presses oil for food products.
State Line Farm Biofuels strives for a closed-loop system, meaning that all inputs are sourced from the farm and all outputs are recycled into the process or elsewhere on the farm. “We take a long view on biofuels while remembering simplicity, re-use and self-sustenance have a long history on Vermont farms,” Williamson said. “A hundred years ago all farms were growing their own fuel.”
To start, the stainless steel biodiesel processor is built from salvaged brewing tanks and repurposed dairy vacuum line.
The diesel fuel for farm equipment comes from oilseeds grown and pressed on the farm, with the meal helping to feed livestock. Solar collectors and other waste streams provide the heat needed for making fuel. The bio-barn was built into the hillside to allow for gravity feed of materials. It uses a passive solar design to harness the sun’s warmth in the winter but provide shade in the summer.
Glycerin is a by-product from producing biodiesel, and Williamson installed a waste-oil boiler and intends to use glycerin as fuel. The heat from this boiler will be used to dry grains, to drive the reaction that turns oil into biodiesel, and to recover alcohol used in the process.
[imgcontainer] [img:Inside+the+Bio+Barn.jpg] [source]Photo by Vermont Bioenergy Initiative[/source]
Williamson leads tours of his “Bio Barn.”
Eventually the farm plans to produce all their own fuel ingredients including alcohol and lye. Williamson has also made his own ethanol and potash used to convert a small batch of sunflower oil into biodiesel with all ingredients sourced from the farm.
Williamson imagines a day when he grows not only oilseeds as the feedstock for his biodiesel, but also sweet sorghum to provide sugar-based ethanol to displace petroleum based methanol currently used in his process. While he is currently using solar hot water and the glycerin bi-product from his biodiesel production to heat the process, he thinks he could make use of the bagasse (solids) from sweet sorghum to do it in the future.
Infrastructure development, research, analysis, and support to State Line Biofuels have been provided by the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative and UVM Extension with funding secured by U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy and the U.S. Department of Energy. More information about bioenergy work in Vermont is available at www.VermontBioenergy.com.
Rachel Carter is the communications director at the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, a non-profit organization created by the state of Vermont to help develop Vermont’s sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, and forest product businesses. A homesteader, she resides in Plainfield, Vermont.