2/2/2011 9:47 AM
College of Agricultural Sciences - Cooperative Extension & Farming Operations
........Success stories and tips from bioenergy innovators
Penn State University’s “Fields to Fuels” bioenergy crops display is a field-scale demonstration of several new and proven bioenergy crops for Pennsylvania. These crops are not merely display samples; “they are being grown at field scale to test their productivity and growth characteristics for use by Penn State and others.” The site is available for tours.
Crop trials are at two locations: 1) a field of safflower is growing at the Farm Services office, and 2) several additional crops are being grown in fields near the former armory building. A map of the second site is shown below.
Crops growing in the field demonstration include: safflower, spring barley, “low lin” soy, sugar beet, camelina, spring and winter canola, brown flax, sorghum, sunflower, switchgrass, and Atlantic Coastal Panic Grass. Each crop has its’ distinct growing season and important attributes for study, so all year round there is something available for observation in the field. Many of these “second and third generation” crops are underutilized, readily available in PA, and could serve as more sustainable sources to be grown and harvested for biofuels than the traditional “first generation” crops, like corn and soybeans.
In addition, Penn State’s University Park campus operates an oilseed press for the cold-pressing of oils (Oilseed Food and Fuel Cycle at Penn State image). The primary feedstock is canola, a black seed about ½ the size of a peppercorn. Much of the canola is grown in the bioenergy demonstration on campus and harvested in July and August. The oil is filtered and used as fuel in two agricultural machines modified for this purpose. While the current use is as fuel, Penn State’s interest is in minimally processing the oil for use in the dining hall fryers. Following the cooking of French fries and tater tots, the used oil will be collected and transferred to the biodiesel processing plant on-campus where a transesterification process will create biodiesel. This biodiesel is then returned to university vehicles, including the tractors that aided in the growth of the canola as fuel!
When pressing canola, about 1/3 of the weight of the original seed goes to the oil side and the remaining 2/3 by weight goes to oilseed meal. Oilseed meal contains protein and can be used as a part of the feed ration for animals. A small amount of the fractured seed particles, called foots, go with the oil and require filtering or settling to remove.
Filtering can be accomplished by various methods, but Penn State has acquired a small filter-press (Fig. 3) for performing this operation. The unit is small, and as Penn State grows in production they will need to upgrade to a larger filtering unit. A material called diatomaceous earth (DE) is used as a filtering aid to help with this process. DE is a common filtering material that is used in swimming pool filters as well as food processing filtration.
After filtering, the oil is used in a modified tractor and front end loader (Fig. 4) as engine fuel. Over 2,200 gallons of oil have been used by these two pieces of equipment over the past year. These machines use petroleum diesel fuel when starting and when not working hard, and switch to the vegetable oil when working. Overall, these machines use about 85% vegetable oil and 15% petroleum oil.
As the process for making the cold pressed oil into fryer oil becomes understood, the university will move toward making a portion of the oil used in the dining halls at the University Park campus. This will create a better awareness among the student population of where food comes from and allow close-to-home discussions of cycles and sustainability.
For further information on the university’s bioenergy program, see the following websites:
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Article written and edited in collaboration with and permission by: Glen Cauffman, Doug Schaufler, and Aubrey Bauman. Penn State Univeristy and AMERIgreen have a working research relationship to find ways to monitor and perfect AMERIgreen's biodiesel and biolubricant products.