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Fallbrook resident making own biodiesel fuel

 

Last updated 7/5/2007 at Noon



For Fallbrook’s Don Lougee, making his own biodiesel fuel isn’t just about the money.

Lougee and his partner, Ed Hatcher of Temecula, produce biodiesel fuel for their trucks at a total cost between 70 and 80 cents a gallon – and that’s before they receive a tax credit of

50 cents per gallon, which reduces their price to less than 30 cents per gallon. Lougee has a daughter who is currently in the US Army, and the reduction on foreign oil dependence also helps reduce the profits used by some Middle Eastern interests to fund terrorists. Lougee has a total of six children, so Lougee’s family also reaps the clean air benefits of biodiesel. Lougee also notes better gas mileage and better performance in his truck since he began using biodiesel. And to help reduce the energy costs of production, Lougee installed solar panels on top of his house, so his electric meter spins backwards.

“I’m helping the environment, helping myself, helping my family,” said the 43-year-old Lougee.

Lougee and Hatcher don’t want to be the sole beneficiaries of all the advantages of biodiesel. Every quarter Lougee and Hatcher hold a workshop out of Lougee’s home in the Winterwarm area of Fallbrook; the workshops typically attract more than two dozen people. “I’ve talked to people from all over California, basically,” Lougee said.

Lougee and Hatcher sell biodiesel fuelmaking equipment but not the fuel itself. They utilize the business name Suntec Bioenergy; in May they initiated public sale of the Suntec performance diesel additive – which is biodegradable as well as performance-enhancing – and in June their http://www.suntecbioenergy.com Web site was initiated.

The statistic of reducing emissions by 80 percent is an industry figure. The statistic of 20.1 miles per gallon for a truck weighing 8,000 pounds including a loaded trailer is from Lougee’s own experience, as are his cost numbers. “We figured we’d save about $9,000 a year in fuel by making it ourselves,” Lougee said. “As many miles as I drive, my investment was paid off in the first four months.”

In addition to the emissions and consumption environmental benefits, the biodiesel fuel is safe enough that one could actually taste it harmlessly. “It’s less toxic than table salt,” Lougee said.

Unless it is done correctly, production of biodiesel fuel could have a negative effect on the environment. When additional land is needed to grow soybeans, corn, or other sources of alternative fuel, deforestation is often the result as well as higher commodity prices. In Lougee’s case, the oil is obtained from restaurants and reduces disposal quantities as well as the restaurant’s disposal expenses. “You collect oil from restaurants who normally have to have somebody come and take it away,” Lougee said. “I do them a favor and I do myself a favor by making my own diesel fuel.”

Lougee and Hatcher collect oil from the restaurants once or twice each month. “I’ll suck up 200 gallons with my trailer in ten minutes,” Lougee said.

Lougee and Hatcher work with several restaurants including fish restaurants, sushi bars, Irish pubs, and Asian restaurants.

“They use a lot of good quality oil,” he said.

Lougee and Hatcher also work with the Temecula Olive Oil Company, noting that even non-edible olives produce good fuel. Most of the restaurants from which Lougee and Hatcher obtain their fuel sources are located in Oceanside and Temecula, and Sweet Leilani’s is currently the only Fallbrook restaurant. Lougee notes that his focus outside of Fallbrook allows other Fallbrook residents to work with local restaurants. “There’s plenty of oil out there,” he said. “Any vegetable-based oil is very good for making biodiesel.”

Biodiesel fuel can also be obtained from Mexican restaurants which use canola oil. At this point Lougee is unable to use lard or cream shortening, although that may change. “As far as biodiesel is concerned we’re infants compared to what Europe is doing,” Lougee said. “They are very more advanced than we are at this point.”

The activities of Lougee’s family have prevented him from traveling to Europe, although he may do so in the future. Meanwhile he is paying attention to European technology. “I keep my eyes and ears open for anything that Europe’s doing,” he said.

Rudolf Diesel used peanut oil to power his first engine. Diesel first successfully tested his engine in

1894 and received a patent in 1898. “This is not a big secret. The world’s known this for a lot of years,” Lougee said.

Diesel was unable to overcome the influence of oil and gasoline interests and did not reap the financial rewards of his invention. Alcohol-based fuels were also common before Prohibition gave gasoline the predominance, but the current high gasoline prices have made biodiesel attractive to consumers as well as to politicians who respond to those voters. “I’m not going to pay those prices anymore,” Lougee said. “This is a source that’s readily available.”

Although Lougee essentially has a filling station in his garage, he can legally do that as long as he doesn’t retail the fuel to others. “There’s nothing illegal about it. You are allowed to make and take a tax credit on 3,000 gallons of diesel fuel a year,” he said.

Lougee, who has lived in Fallbrook since 1998, does not have a chemistry or engineering background. He grew up in Garden Grove and joined the Marine Corps at the age of 18. After his discharge he went to work for Dunn-Edwards and eventually married into the Edwards family. He was a sales manager before starting his professional involvement in the biodiesel industry two years ago. “I had no background whatsoever as far as chemistry or fuels,” he said.

His initiation into biodiesel fuel was a program he watched on Spike TV. He began researching the technology and opted to pursue it himself. He met a manufacturer for Extreme Biodiesel, which sells biodiesel tanks and other equipment, and purchased the necessary supplies. “I was sold the minute I started using it in my truck,” he said. “We found a very cheap abundant source of fuel and we never looked back.”

Lougee met Hatcher, who had previously been in the automobile transport business, at a Temecula off-road store, and the two teamed up to become distributors for Extreme Biodiesel before focusing on other aspects of the industry.

The process of turning restaurant oil or other biosources into fuel takes approximately one day from start to finish, although little of that requires human labor. A closed-loop system prevents fumes in the garage as well as any harm from heat. A unit can process up to 100 gallons per day. “This stuff is very easy to build, very easy to maintain,” Lougee said. “It’s a fascinating process I’m very proud of and in the spirit of Rudolf Diesel.”

The NOx emissions in Lougee’s truck are slightly higher, which creates more heat, but since no sulfur is used in the biodiesel Lougee’s truck doesn’t emit black smoke from sulfur ash. “If you’re creating 80 percent less toxic smoke I’ll take a little bit of heat,” he said. “By the time I process and burn it, it’s virtually odorless.”

The Suntec additive replaces the sulfur which has been taken out of traditional diesel fuel. The biodiesel fuel itself is filtered to ten microns (one micron is one-millionth of a meter). “That’s 20 times cleaner than you can buy out of a pump,” Lougee said. “You look at a vial of my biodiesel, it’s completely translucent.”

The biodiesel fuel has not adversely affected the engine performance of his 2001 Ford Excursion which has exceeded 100,000 miles. “It runs like it’s brand new,” he said. “I believe I’ll run at least half a million miles if not more.”

Not all biodiesel users fuel automobile engines. One of Lougee’s customers has a dairy. “He figured he’d save probably twelve to fourteen thousand a year in electricity costs,” Lougee said.

“It will work on any diesel engine. There are no conversions necessary,” Lougee said. “This is pure diesel fuel. It’s just vegetable oil based.”

Although the use of corn for alternative fuels has increased the cost of that vegetable for food, Lougee notes that algae, seaweed, and switchgrass can potentially also be used for biodiesel and ethanol. “What we need is an unlimited supply of biomass which can be converted to fuel,” he said.

Lougee is also a Fallbrook Pop Warner assistant coach; in addition to his son’s football activities, one daughter plays volleyball and another is in the Fallbrook Youth Soccer Association. That creates significant driving for Lougee and his wife, but the biodiesel serves them well when traveling to youth sports activities. “I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Don Lougee said.

 

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