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Fuel for thought: a future in bio- diesel (04/04)

By the year 2050, if fossil fuels continue to be consumed at the rate at which they are consumed today, the earth will run out of oil, predicts Douglas Niles, a Thunder Bay researcher and innovator.

By the year 2050, if fossil fuels continue to be consumed at the rate at which they are consumed today, the earth will run out of oil, predicts Douglas Niles, a Thunder Bay researcher and innovator. This is one reason Niles is tapping into opportunities in the alternative energy sector.

Niles recently launched a new business in Thunder Bay, AF Synergy, to manufacture bio-diesel.

In the basement of his home, a furnace and hot water heater run on bio-diesel made from vegetable oils, mixed 50-50 with heating oil, known as petrol diesel.

“Running on this mixture has cut my home heating costs by about one-third,” says Niles.

A two-litre, plastic soft-drink bottle is used to demonstrate how bio-diesel is produced. Adding methanol and a catalyst to used canola oil, Niles gives it a good shake, and then allows the solution to react. Less than one hour later, the bottom three to four centimetres of the bottle is a clear reddish-amber, which Niles explains is glycerine. The remaining liquid separates into a cloudy yellow colour, and is bio-diesel.

Three years ago he started out experimenting to develop bio-diesel, using his kitchen as a testing lab for bio-diesel development. His basement is now set up to manufacture the bio-diesel.

He uses fluid dynamic pump mixing, which he explains allows for more thorough mixing of the fatty acid methyl ester.

“Environmentally, bio-diesel reduces emissions, acting as a cleaner to petrol diesel, just as ethanol will clean gasoline when it’s added,” he says.

Once Niles developed the bio-diesel, he tested it in a diesel gen-set that is owned by a local entrepreneur in Thunder Bay. The results were 99 per cent efficiency, better than the expected 90 per cent, or a 10 per cent loss in power. At this point, he knew he was on to something.

As a test project, Niles has gradually added bio-diesel to the diesel engine in his 1984 Mercedes, and by June of this year he plans to be using up to 80 per cent bio-diesel to operate his vehicle.

The use of used cooking oils is the only way to produce bio-diesel inexpensively, and this leads to soap formation. Niles is an advocate of washed bio-diesel and believes his wash formula is superior to conventional methods. He says bio-diesel is compatible to run in any diesel engine, and can be used in any mix with petrol diesel; it is also compatible with kerosene.

“Adding bio-diesel to petrol, takes out the odour. Also, it’s excellent for spill re-mediation, because it breaks down faster, and will result in no environmental impact.”

His plan is to produce bio-diesel at an affordable price and market it as an extender. In order to move to the next level, he needs partnerships and capital.

“I want to avoid grant-repreneurism; I believe a project like this can be funded and operated by the private sector, or perhaps a co-operative. There is a profit potential of approximately five cents per litre after expenses, whereas petroleum products operate at two cents profit per litre. If the fuel can be marketed at fifty cents per litre, it can compete in the market.”

Niles has had discussions with officials from Toronto Hydro and the City of Brampton; both currently use a 20/80 bio-diesel/petrol mix imported from the U.S.

“There is a market for bio-diesel in Ontario now.

“There is potential for huge returns down the road, and now is the time to get positioned. Our current world politics and the war on terror ultimately have their roots in crude oil.”

Originally from New Brunswick, where he studied technology and social change, Niles came to Thunder Bay to complete his degree by taking a course at Lakehead University. He was previously employed at Irving Oil Ltd.

He can be reached by e-mail to afsynergy@hotmail.com




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