By Daniel Schemer, August 2009
Efforts to bring biodiesel to UMass Dartmouth, whether for fueling the Dart Vans or using it as a blend for heating buildings, have not yet come to fruition. Advantages of biodiesel are it burns cleaner, reduces soot buildup in heating systems, improves air quality, lowers carbon emissions, increases the lifespan of fuel injection equipment, and is biodegradable. It also reduces dependence on foreign oil, hence strengthening the economy, since it is made from vegetable oils, especially waste vegetable oil (WVO).
Henry Bratcher, a senior in marketing with Minors in operations management and sustainability, has been working with Mass BioFuel, a company that creates, sells, and installs biodiesel products and heating systems all over the state, to pick up waste vegetable oil UMass Dartmouth produces to be used to heat homeless shelters during fall/winter months. “Working on the program with Mass BioFuels is going better than expected,” said Henry Bratcher.
In the spring, after a meeting between Mr. Bratcher, Mass BioFuel, and Dennis Batcheller, Operations Director for Sodexho, Mass BioFuel began picking up WVO free of charge. Rough estimates by Mass BioFuels had the dining facilities at UMass Dartmouth producing between 100-150 gallons of waste vegetable oil every couple of weeks during regular semesters. Before Mass BioFuels ceased pick-ups in the summer, UMass Dartmouth donated about 249 gallons, with a monetary value of 10 cents per gallon. “Once the school year starts up again the donations should increase exponentially,” explained Mr. Bratcher.
Since biodiesel must be blended when used in heating systems, Mass BioFuel will convert it into bioheat, what they call an 80/20 Green Blend, composed of 80% regular heating oil and 20% biodiesel. After calculating the percentage of retained bioheat necessary to cover production costs, they donate the rest to shelters and give estimates of savings and price protection plans. “We don’t know the return costs for shelters yet, but it will be lower than regular heating oil,” said Bob Warren, owner of Mass BioFuel. WVO for this project is also being supplied by St. Anne’s Hospital in New Bedford.
This is not a student project for Henry Bratcher. “I’ve been interested in this since high school.” Mr. Bratcher started working on a small-scale biodiesel project over a year ago. His initial plan was to set up a biodiesel processor at the Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School with the hopes that students could learn how to process WVO themselves. Unfortunately, the plan fell through due to space restrictions at the school. Efforts to bring a biodiesel plant to UMass Dartmouth didn’t work out because of costs and how much space necessary to build a processing facility. Large-scale, 200-gallon biodiesel processors can fit in almost any room and cost, depending on brand and accessories, $6000-$10,000. Mr. Bratcher was aiming for a $6,000 processor, but “it still needed a facility which, because of things like fire codes and sprinkler systems, would have ended up being more expensive than the processor.”
Because of how slow and indeterminate the initial stages of this project were, he decided to forego the possibility of course credit, find other like-minded students and focus, passionately, on its necessity. “They’re using it everywhere else, so why not here? There are so many uses for it and it’s a lot more helpful for the environment.”
Mr. Bratcher states that Congressman Barney Frank has showed support for the project. “Barney Frank’s office was very helpful in providing information and support to push the project along.”
Mr. Bratcher is continuing attempting to establish direct contact with New Bedford shelters in the hopes they’ll start using bioheat by this winter. Recently, a deal was worked out with the Pine Street Inn, the largest homeless shelter in Boston, to accept donations of WVO for heating some of their facilities. “It took some time to get the Pine Street Inn and an infrastructure for the donation system set up, but it is rolling now,” said Mr. Bratcher. All of UMass Dartmouth’s donations have gone to the Pine Street Inn. In addition, pick-ups have expanded to Framingham State University, Bentley College, and Bridgewater State College.
Mr. Bratcher hopes the project could lead to further biodiesel efforts at UMass Dartmouth, possibly turning it into an outside charity where students, free enterprising, can take over. More student involvement is necessary to make this a reality. “Students who want to get involved just need to be able to communicate with shelters and also find new sources of waste vegetable oil.”
Besides his commitments to classes and various other projects related to sustainability, Henry Bratcher has worked for Clean Energy Design, a company based in Falmouth that provides design, construction, installation, and maintenance of solar panels and wind turbines for businesses and residential areas. He also spent the summer working at Mass BioFuel’s production facility in order to learn more about the industry. “I try and dabble in everything green.”
“I think he’s fantastic. He has a lot of enthusiasm, has a lot of good ideas, and is very organized,” said Bob Warren about Mr. Bratcher working at Mass BioFuel.