[originally written on 5/11/08]
The gardening season has started and alas, there is not much time nor energy at the end of the day to write in this blog. But it’s pouring outside right now, Sunday pm, May 11, and the rain promises to come down through the night and into the morning and so I’ve got some space to write.
This weekend I attended a “Make Your Own Biodiesel” workshop at a friend’s house. This friend, John Shepley, is one of the founders of the Baltimore Biodiesel Coop. I’m an active volunteer with the group and have been running my car on biodiesel from the Coop for about 18 months so far. Nothing can describe the joy that I felt the first day I filled up on the mostly non-fossilized fuel. Amazing to know that at least when it comes to my car fuel, I’m contributing less to global warming.
The Coop is an amazing group of talented, committed folks and I’m honored to be one of them. My skills are not in the tinkering with the grease and mechanical pump operations though. I’m assisting with volunteering coordination and membership communications – ah, the more feminine, softer skills, I suppose.
But I’ve been curious what’s involved in making biodiesel for a while and thus wanted to attend this workshop. The focus of the workshop was on how to build an appleseed biodiesel processor. This is the system that many are building in their backyards to make their own biodiesel. Twenty-one of us showed up and we sat and learned about the chemistry basics and mechanics of how to create biodiesel from veggie oil (used!), methanol and potassium oxide. (Please don’t quote me on this recipe. My notes are elsewhere.) After several hours of lecture and discussion, everyone trooped down to John’s workroom under his garage built into the hill and people set to work putting all the various pieces of recycled barrels, old water heater, and other tubing together that make up the entire contraption that converts used veggie oil (known as WVO or Waste Vegetable Oil) into biodiesel that any diesel engine can use.
I think that the Amish would have been proud of us. We all came together to learn and help John build his system John suggested when he sent out his wksp announcement that this could be just the first of many opportunities for our biodiesel community to come together in ‘barn-raising’, rather ‘appleseed biodiesel processor-raising’ parties. I love the vision! Clusters of folks making their own fuel in their garages, step by step weaning themselves from fossil fuels and all the nasty international struggles over the ancient resources.
I remember when I spent the winter of 1994-95 in Belize just outside some Mayan villages. Whenever one of the Mayan villagers needed to have a new palm roof on their homes, the palm fronds would be collected from the rainforest. Then a group of villagers (men) would collectively pass the fronds up while several wove them together up on the roof. No one was paid. They shared their food and work. There was nothing amazing about this. It’s how they lived and supported each other.
John talked the possibility of the home-brewers of the fuel working cooperatively to collect the waste veggie oil with a paid driver toodling around the region and collecting the WVO from the restaurants. They would work collaboratively to save time and resources and make sure that all who need WVO has access to it.
I’d really like to see it happen… and not instead turn into a competitive race to see who gets to the restaurant first to get his/her fuel leaving others without any waste oil. I have hope yet for our society to learn how to support each other so that all have the resources they need so that all can live a good quality of life for ourselves and the environment. The Mayans had it right, as do the Amish.
At one point in the day, someone needed to drive an organic farmer down to his farm two miles down the road for a quick watering of the plants in his greenhouse. People’s cars were sardined into John’s tiny driveway blocking the farmer’s truck so I offered my car which was parked on the edge and easy to access. When they returned, the farmer was so grateful for the ride that he gifted me with several plant seedlings from the organic farm. So I came home with a couple of eggplant seedlings, along with a sunflower and zinnia. I love to grow eggplants and had not gotten any yet this season. A perfect gift!
I went to learn about the basics of making biodiesel and witnessed a group of very committed people form bonds as they put a biodiesel processor together. Plus I returned with plants that will bear fruit in my garden. But I know that those plants are not the only thing that will be bearing fruit over the year. Tapping local waste products to make fuel is mushrooming all over the region and world, actually. I celebrate these steps. Woo – Hoo! Let’s make more biodiesel. And there will be Eggplant Parmesan later in the summer. ;~)