FROM THE DEEP SOUTH OF THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST, NORM NELSON, HEAD OF LIB TECH’S environMENTAL DIVISION, DEEP FRIES HIS LUNCH, THEN BURNS THE GREASE TO GET HOME:
HEY NORM, RUMOR HAS IT THAT YOU AND OLSON HAVE A LIB TECH BIODIESEL STATION IN THE WORKS?
Yeah, Mike and I have been running biodiesel in our vehicles for about four years now… since right around the start of the current war in Iraq. When we started, someone would smell one of our rigs drive past them in a parking lot, then ask us about it, and we’d explain to them that it was biodiesel… but nobody knew what we were talking about. Nowadays, there’s a lot of publicity surrounding biodiesel, I’m actually surprised at the press it’s gotten… so people are a lot more hip to it, and they see our biodiesel bumper stickers, so we’re always getting asked “Where can I buy some?”
Four years ago, biodiesel was maybe $2.25 a gallon and regular petroleum dinosaur diesel was maybe $1.25 a gallon, but we were buying biodiesel anyway, just on principal… everyone thought we were crazy. This week, biodiesel is $2.95 a gallon and dino diesel is $3.30 a gallon, so now it makes even more sense. Biodiesel isn’t available locally out here on the Olympic Peninsula, so Mike and I started off by buying it a tankful at a time when we were visiting our Seattle factory… one of the biggest biodiesel retailers in Seattle is in Ballard, really close to Mervin’s Seattle shop. Since then, Mike and I formed our own co-op. We bought a little tanker trailer and a couple of totes and some metal storage tanks, so nowadays we buy the B99 in Seattle and tow it out here on our own. We have our own pump and we sell the biodiesel at cost to anyone that wants to buy it, anyone can join the co-op.
DOES LIB TECH MAKE THEIR OWN BIODIESEL? IS THERE A MAGIC SOYBEAN FIELD AROUND THE CORNER FROM THE ALTERED GENETIC FOREST?
No, we don’t yet make our own biodiesel, but we hope to soon… before the end of the year. I’ve started building a processor, but there are so many other projects… Mike’s busy inventing the best snowboards, narrow-ass snowboards, skateboards, surfboards, etc… and nope, there isn’t any magic soybean field out here… we don’t have the right climate here on the Olympic Peninsula for soybeans, it’s not hot enough. However, I have been talking with a local organic farm about growing mustard seed, it’s the best local crop for making biodiesel, other than algae. I think the future of biodiesel is in higher-yield crops like algae, not soy… but soy and the mustards like rapeseeds (canola) work for now and they are the most readily available, so that’s what the biodiesel we buy is made from. There are also two big biodiesel plants that are supposed to be built here on the peninsula, one of them will be one of the biggest in the US, so we’re stoked about that.
WHAT ELSE IS RUN BY LIB TECH BIODIESEL BESIDES YOUR GUYS’ CARS?
We’ve got some other people who are running it in their vehicles, landscape trucks and tractors, and we supply two of the local organic farms with biodiesel to run in their tractors. They like it a lot, especially on the planting tractors, since they are so close to that exhaust all day. We also burn biodiesel in our furnace here at the factory, so the factory is heated with it.
WHAT DOES IT (LIB TECH BIODIESEL) SMELL LIKE?
The biodiesel itself smells mild, sorta like vegetable oil. When you burn it in your vehicle, the exhaust makes you hungry… some people says it smells like french fries, others say it smells like popcorn or chinese food… I don’t know what it smells like, but both Mike and I love it… we’ll never go back.
SUSTAINABLE SNOWBOARD MANUFACTURING?
We try to do the best we can. We use lots of renewable, sustainable products in our manufacturing. Some of our polyethylene base materials are made from recycled polyethylene, milk jugs and bottles and stuff like that. Our wood cores are made from fast-growing renewable trees. We take the wood core sawdust and most of it gets donated to a local soil company, who composts it and mixes it into their topsoil. We also have a hydraulic press machine that we’re experimenting with that will compress the rest of the sawdust into hard pucks, like Presto-Logs, but shorter. We have an oil / wood burning furnace for the factory that I’d like to modify so it will automatically feed in the sawdust pucks and burn them cleanly… so we can help heat the factory with our wood waste. We’re also looking into generating some electricity with this stuff, either through small-scale steam or small biomass gasification units… I’m not sure yet… it takes a lot of research. Generating electricity is one thing, but the easiest thing to do is to use less electricity in the first place. Scott & Daylin, our facilities guys have been working with our local utility company to do conservation methods in our factory… upgrading factory lighting and trying to optimize the big loads like the air compressors and such. I recently took a class on utility-interactive photo-voltaic systems, so hopefully in the near future we will have a grid-tied system with some solar PV panels on our Marketing / Art Department building and we’ll be able to sell the excess electricity back to our utility… we’ll see, little by little.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR LATEST HYDRO CAR ADVENTURE?
Well, if I told you, I’d have to kill you. Ha ha ha! No, it’s sorta out-there kinda stuff… I have a friend that’s a mechanic and he’s working on running engines off of water. He stops by my office every couple of days and bounces ideas off of me, and I help him source materials… we’ve given him lots of surplus plastics and stuff, and we’ve cut parts for his projects on our CNC knife cutter and things like that. He’s working on about five different things right now… some of them are pretty straightforward, like electrolyzers that produce e-gas (hydrogen / oxygen) on demand, and then feed propane-style carbs on regular car engines… but others are kinda outside mainstream thinking, like Joe cells and stuff like that. I don’t know much about it, but I’m all for it! Most of my vehicles burn biodiesel, but I have a couple of small tractors and a portable sawmill that has a VW motor, and they all burn gasoline… so I’d love to switch them over to hydrogen, water, ethanol, whatever… build tractors, not tanks…