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Homework’s a gas in biodiesel class

EVERETT, Wash. – As gasoline prices keep rising, Lyle Rudensey laughs all the way to his garage.

That’s where Rudensey, a 52-year-old Seattle resident, uses a 15-gallon plastic water tank and an old electric water heater to brew biodiesel for his 2002 Volkswagen station wagon.

It costs Rudensey about 50 cents per gallon to fuel his vehicle.

“Anybody could do it,” said Rudensey, who works as a consultant for people who want to build their own biodiesel processors. “It takes a little bit of effort to get yourself set up, and you’ve got to overcome your fears of doing a little chemistry.”

On one recent Saturday, the biodiesel guru taught others how to make biodiesel during a class at Everett Community College’s Applied Technology Training Center. Rudensey, who goes by the nickname “BioLyle,” showed his audience of six how to use industrial biodiesel processors, as well as how to make their own home-brewing system.

Garth Wright, 55, of Everett, said he and his son, Dereck, have been researching making biodiesel for a while. They liked what they saw at Rudensey’s class.

“I’ve read a lot about it, but after seeing how to do it, it’s easier than I thought it would be after all the text that I read,” Wright said. “We’re interested in it, and we probably will do it.”

Rudensey, a former researcher with a degree in molecular biology, became interested in making biodiesel while working at the University of Washington. He learned about biodiesel from a co-worker’s brother, Dan Freeman, owner of Dr. Dan’s Alternative Fuelwerks in Ballard. Freeman used to sell biodiesel from the back of a truck at the Mukilteo Farmers Market.

The war in Iraq started about the same time Rudensey was learning about biodiesel.

“I thought, this is the one thing I can do to remove myself from the whole petroleum system,” Rudensey said.

People can spend thousands of dollars to buy pre-made biodiesel processors, or they can spend a few hundred dollars to build their own systems, Rudensey said. To make his fuel, Rudensey mixes discarded cooking oil from restaurants with methanol and potassium hydroxide.

He’s perfected a system to make 50-gallon batches in five to six days.

“It’s pretty easy to make, but it’s tricky to do it right every time,” Rudensey said. “There are things to be aware of and ways to improve the process.”

Freeman said it’s “absolutely awesome” that Rudensey is teaching others how to make biodiesel – even if it may someday lead to fewer customers for his service stations.

“I’ve been playing with alternative energy and conservation for over 30 years now, and it really does represent reaching those goals,” Freeman said. “It might not be more market for me, but if biodiesel is done correctly, it can certainly have a huge environmental and economic advantage.”



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