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The Job Interview: Granite State Biofuels arrives in Bow

  • Granite State Biofuels, located in Bow, with Lynda MaGuire, CEO, John MaGuire, production manager, and Andrew Hatch, operations director. Friday, July 26, 2013.<br/><br/><br/><br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / monitor staff)

    Granite State Biofuels, located in Bow, with Lynda MaGuire, CEO, John MaGuire, production manager, and Andrew Hatch, operations director. Friday, July 26, 2013.




    (JOHN TULLY / monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Granite State Biofuels, located in Bow, with Lynda MaGuire, CEO, John MaGuire, production manager, and Andrew Hatch, operations director. Friday, July 26, 2013.<br/><br/><br/><br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / monitor staff)

    Granite State Biofuels, located in Bow, with Lynda MaGuire, CEO, John MaGuire, production manager, and Andrew Hatch, operations director. Friday, July 26, 2013.




    (JOHN TULLY / monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Granite State Biofuels, located in Bow, with Lynda MaGuire, CEO, John MaGuire, production manager, and Andrew Hatch, operations director. Friday, July 26, 2013.<br/><br/><br/><br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / monitor staff)

    Granite State Biofuels, located in Bow, with Lynda MaGuire, CEO, John MaGuire, production manager, and Andrew Hatch, operations director. Friday, July 26, 2013.




    (JOHN TULLY / monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Granite State Biofuels, located in Bow, with Lynda MaGuire, CEO, John MaGuire, production manager, and Andrew Hatch, operations director. Friday, July 26, 2013.<br/><br/><br/><br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / monitor staff)
  • Granite State Biofuels, located in Bow, with Lynda MaGuire, CEO, John MaGuire, production manager, and Andrew Hatch, operations director. Friday, July 26, 2013.<br/><br/><br/><br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / monitor staff)
  • Granite State Biofuels, located in Bow, with Lynda MaGuire, CEO, John MaGuire, production manager, and Andrew Hatch, operations director. Friday, July 26, 2013.<br/><br/><br/><br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / monitor staff)

One of the first myths Andrew Hatch would like to dispel about biodiesel is that, when used to power a vehicle or other type of diesel-fired machine, it releases an insufferable stench. Not so. In fact, he said, in contrast to traditional diesel, biodiesel has a “vaguely oily, quite pleasant smell.”

“It does not smell of french fries,” he said.

Also untrue is the rumor that you’ll have to reconfigure your diesel car or truck before switching to biodiesel. You’re probably thinking of those vehicles that operate on unfiltered waste vegetable oil – “grease cars” – Hatch said. This is different.

You may recognize Hatch’s name from Lotions ’n Potions in Concord, which he co-owns, or from Green Concord, an alliance of sustainable local businesses, over which he presides. Soon, pending tests and government approval, which could come in as little as a month or two, you will be able to add Granite State Biofuels to that list.

If approved, the business – which was founded by John and Lynda Maguire with help from Hatch, who acts as operations director – will manufacture and distribute biodiesel from a small facility on Dunklee Road in Bow.

In an interview with the Monitor, Hatch expounded on the fledgling venture, and on the biofuel industry in general.

What is biodiesel?

Biodiesel is made from fats, not to be confused with ethanol, which is made from starches. You can run anything that runs on diesel – a car or home heating machine, for example – on biodiesel. However, most people mix it and blend it with regular diesel. That’s why you’ll often see diesel associated with numbers, such as B20, which contains 20 percent biodiesel.

How do you make it?

The technical term for what we do is transesterification. You start with waste vegetable oil, typically from restaurants or other large-scale operations; and that is cleaned up and de-watered, and then you heat that up and mix it with two reagents: the first is methanol, often derived from natural gas production or wood chips, and the other is a high alkaline substance, basically like Drano. When you add those, a reaction ensues and you end up with biodiesel and glycerin, a by-product of the

process, which can be used as a fuel to fire up in commercial boilers and things like that. Biodiesel doesn’t have the precisely same chemical structure as diesel but is very similar.

How efficient is the process?

Out of every gallon you put in, you’ll get about 80 to 90 percent biodiesel.

What are the downsides?

It does have a tendency to gel at lower temps, not unlike regular diesel. If it’s made well, like ours is, it has a lower level. Soybean oil or canola oil is what we use, which helps lower the level. Also, when you put biodiesel into an engine or fuel tank it acts sort of like OxiClean, so you might need to change your fuels at first. But over time, biodiesel runs cleaner and quieter than your regular diesel engine.

Why isn’t biofuel anywhere and everywhere?

Well, there is a finite supply of waste vegetable oil. The technology to make it is not new, but the opportunity to get into biofuels is partly economics – the availability, and price of other fuels. We have to be ballpark competitive with those. What the government has done is institute various support systems for all the alternative fuel systems, and because of the government support and subsidies, it has become more viable in recent years.

Last year about 1.2 billion gallons of biodiesel was produced in the United States. That sounds like a lot. The bad news is there is 960 billion gallons of diesel consumed in the U.S. every year. The point is, we haven’t really scratched the surface.

Are there other biofuel manufacturers in New Hampshire?

There is one other in the North Country, in North Haverhill. Nothing other than that of any scale. There are a handful of small-scale operators, many of (whom) produce for their own use. We’re gearing up to produce half a million gallons per year, and hopefully more later on.

What we’re doing differently is a continuous slow process, meaning we produce some every day. The system has been designed in highly automated fashion to lower costs, and we have been applying new technology that until now has only been applied in larger facilities, in the Midwest mostly, that work with the farming community.

How did the idea for the business germinate?

There’s three of us. John and Lynda did the work starting at a kitchen stove level and then discovered more and more the benefits. I joined them after being approached by Lynda because of my involvement with Green Concord.

And I had an involvement in biofuel in my past, when I lived in Massachusetts about 10 years ago.

Who are your target customers and how will you get your waste oil?

The short answer is we plan to sell to retail customers for home heating oil and engines and also to larger distributors. We’re also looking for niche markets like ski resorts for their lifts.

Two or three already use biodiesel, as does the Mount Washington Railway.

We’re at the research and development level now, and friends in the restaurant world are supplying us with our oil so far.

Our demands will eventually be greater – thousands of gallons a day – so we’re looking at partnerships. Unfortunately, there are other applications for old vegetable oil, which I think are far less appropriate, like
in the animal feed business they coat the food with the waste vegetable oil to fatten the animals up at an incredible rate.

The bad side is the people who eat the meat are consuming all the glycerides with it.

But seriously, does it stink?

That goes back to the grease car. When you make biodiesel, you change the molecular structure and that removes the odors.

Whereas if you smell diesel it makes your eyes water.

In fact, biodiesel is fairly harmless in as much as
you could drink it, though I would not advise that. You could even pour it into a lake, for example, and it would simply disperse. So there’s less toxicity.

And, as opposed to diesel, there are no big clouds of black smoke when you use it.

What’s the status of the business?

We’re still at a point where we’re finalizing the process. You have to pass various government tests, and we’re hoping to submit our batch for those within the next week or so.

The results could come back within the month. As for a time frame, we’ll scale up for production in the fall.

We’re in discussion with several retail outlets right now.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319,
jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

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