Upper Lachlan

gulp Biodiesel School Bus – Home Grown in Gunning

Since 2003/4 biodiesel producer Ned Stojadinovic has been tinkering away in his back shed in Gunning on development of alternative fuels.

In 2004 he found the recipe for a new type of fuel made from vegetable oil – it wasn’t called biodiesel back then – and so he mixed some up in an old blender. He went on to build his own 40 litre processor.

In 2006 he was approached by developers in Papua New Guinea to build a village sized processor to convert coconut oil into fuel. He’s just returned from Norfolk Island where he has been demonstrating electric bicycles to locals and tourist operators.

Ned explains here his motivation and thoughts on how to make small communities like Gunning more sustainable.

Why start all this?

“For me it’s always been a bit of a competition between solar and biofuels.

When we first arrived in Gunning in 2002, I was busily doing the mathematics of solar tracking systems, which are used to stretch out the potential of what were then very expensive solar panels. In eight years of living here the world has changed, and solar panels have plummeted in price while fuel has soared in both price and controversy – you don’t have to believe that the sky is falling but it’s hard to miss the footage of troops “protecting” the parts of the world that just happen to have a lot of oil.

I also started to listen to the folks who are predicting the end of affordable oil. Even the most pessimistic commentators tell us that the oil will flow freely for another 30 years, and so what’s the use of worrying? Well, that’s rather short of forever is it not? Simple arithmetic shows that my daughter will be around 40 when the world as we know it is predicted to implode, and I’d rather not be on record as one of the people who didn’t want to know or at least have a shot at making a difference.”

What made you think of fish n chip oil?

“You see it’s like this: throughout history, it’s been the grubby little person in their garage that has wrought most of the technical change in society. Hewlett Packard? Started in a garage in Paolo Alto. Harley Davidson? Mutual friend’s small machine shop in Milwaukee. Honda? He bought surplus industrial engines and bolted them to bicycles. Apple computer was formed by a trio of nerds in a California garage. The list is endless.

Nowadays, we nerd types all get together via the magic of the internet and march shoulder to shoulder, overcoming all obstacles in our way. At least, that’s the way we like to think about it, but in truth it is a community effort and the amount of good information that flows around is amazing. With the boom in bandwidth it has even got to the point where you can download potted YouTube lectures on particular subjects of interest such as advanced fuel test procedures or the particulars of operation of a particular processor type. Is amazing!

We all start with waste oil, generally from the local fish and chip place or, even better, from the Chinese restaurant. It is after all a waste product and the world is swimming with the stuff, so it is both environmentally conscious and easy to get hold of. Given the sheer quantity of the stuff, most processors will never need to look any further than the back of the local greasy spoon (yes McDonald’s, that means you!), but the larger producers have been investigating other sources of waste such as fat from the local abattoirs, spoiled or out of date product from agriculture, products like soy where the oil is a byproduct, etc”


What’s the science?

“Biodiesel is made out of:

1. Any edible oil or fat

2. Methanol

3. Caustic soda or potash

The caustic soda acts as a catalyst and is left over at the end of the process. In effect, it is like a priest at a wedding: it marries the methanol to the oil and then goes away.

With a good processor, you will use around 82% oil to 18% methanol.

The only waste product is glycerine (about 20%) which can be disposed of in various ways. It can be sprayed onto cattle feed (it is sweet) or dumped into the local sewerage treatment works (the bugs love it). It can be processed further into glycerine soap for industrial uses (it smells like barbecue) and there is a plant being built in Wollongong that has a purification system to produce pharmaceutical grade glycerine for sale.

Producing biodiesel is very similar to producing soap, and one of the things we did in PNG (Papua New Guinea) was to seek women who had some experience in soap production to train in fuel production.”

What savings do you make?

“One litre of diesel produces some 2.4 kg of carbon. The Gunning school bus uses around 160 litres of fuel per week over about 40 weeks of operation per year. That’s 15,360 kg of carbon or around 15 and a third tonnes.

Alternately, look at your average car. Cruising along the highway, you will use around 1 litre of fuel in 6 minutes (OK, if it’s a really economical car, it might be 7 minutes – good for you). So every 6 minutes you’re pumping out 2.4 Kg of carbon. Cool eh?”

What’s the potential to turn ALL school buses into fish and chip fliers?

“The effort would be trivial. All of the work has been done and the expense would be insignificant. Simply enlarging my plant and fitting fuel heaters to the buses would make them 100% bio burners.

It would even be of benefit to farmers. For example, here in Gunning we are at the edge of some prime canola farming land, and Cootamundra has a cooperative mill that produces oil and meal (the pressed seed remains).

The system is to simply “hire” the oil to the various greasy spoons and retrieve it for processing when it is changed out of the deep fryers. The cooperative would thus have oil, meal and very cheap biodiesel as products.”

Plans for the future?

“In a nutshell, a more sustainable future. Solar panels have come a long way, and we plan to cover the roof of our new house with them so that we will be self sufficient in electricity. As far as I can tell it will cost us about $10,000 to do it and we will then save $100 per fortnight forever, at our current consumption and tariff. Once the new smart meters are installed, it will be much, much more. The panels should easily power an electric bicycle and an electric car for buzzing around town. Longer trips and trips in my truck will be taken care of with biodiesel.

I’ve also had a lot of luck exchanging biodiesel (which costs me 30c per litre to produce) for various goods. I figure that we might make a sizeable dent in both our food costs and in the food miles that it has to travel if I can get a few customers for my biodiesel at the local food markets.

For us it makes a great deal of sense in all manner of ways. We can take a step off the “make more money, cough up more money just to stay afloat” roundabout. We can have a shot at eating better food than is found in major supermarkets at the same time that we foster the local economy. We can be an example of what can be done with a bit of thought. And we can stop pumping out carbon while we’re doing it.”

Ned Stojadinovic


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