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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Williamsport Area Firm Using Canola For Fuel/Feed

An interest in canola

Williamsport area firm exploring alternative energy form

By PATRICK DONLIN - pdonlin@sungazette.com
Williamsport Sun-Gazette

What grows in earth can help save the earth.

Processed canola seed products can be used to heat homes, fuel vehicles and feed animals, all possibilities created and explored by Susquehanna Smart Fuel.

From his 1380 Radio Club Road, Fairfield Township plant, Josh Leidhecker houses a variety of equipment that can store and grind seed products.

He and his two business partners, Matt Young and Josh Lepley, are confident that canola seeds can radiate benefits for the community. All three are lifelong county residents.

“We’re passionate about the environment, conservation and keeping waste to a minimum,” Lepley said.

Two years ago, Leidhecker began collecting waste oil from local restaurants. “It started because of cost savings,” he said. “I was interested in finding more affordable fuel options.”

Filtering what some viewed as garbage, Leidhecker sought to convert sludge into fuel for his off-road vehicles and home heater.

The restaurant waste oil retrieved by the company, free of charge, comes in barrels and Leidhecker either filters it himself or takes it to other refineries.

Restaurants interested in getting paid for their waste oil may consider special plumbing filters, but no local restaurants Leidhecker works with are doing this.

Interested in making more restaurant contacts, Leidhecker said: “I would like to have every restaurant in the Susquehanna Valley participate.”

Research proved to Leidhecker that canola offers many benefits. Compared to soybean and sunflower seeds, he said canola seeds offer the most oil per acre farmed and the highest promise for biodiesel.

Contracting local farmers to grow canola for market prices varying from $11 to $12 per bushel, Leidhecker is counting on them to grow about 300 acres of product this spring, so it can be harvested in August.

The farmers contracted are “just your normal, everyday farmers,” according to Lepley.

Yields of 2,000 to 3,500 pounds of oilseed per acre are possible.

Growing and processing canola here is a new concept.

Produced mainly in Canada and Western Europe, the moniker “canola” stems from the description of “Canadian Oil Low Acid.”

Most of the canola production in the United States is concentrated in the upper Midwest and the Dakotas.

Canola oil can be used for cooking, lubrication and to power vehicles if a $2,000 fuel delivery system is installed, according to Leidhecker.

He doesn’t produce canola biodiesel, but does give oil to a company known as Lake Erie Biodiesel to further process. The biodiesel manufactured there can be used for home heating oil or as a diesel fuel replacement for vehicles, with no fuel system conversion necessary.

Canola oil and canola biodiesel each had a recent market value around $4.70 per gallon. Both forms also share the same environmental benefits, Leidhecker said. That includes less emissions, better fuel economy and less dependence on foreign oil, he added.

Leidhecker’s company produces canola pellets. Canola seeds are valuable in the production of food pellets for farm animals, while the canola chaff is used to make pellets to be burned in home heating furnaces.

Production at the Montoursville-area plant stems from the canola seeds grown by farmers in the counties of Lycoming, Tioga, Union and Columbia.

With a storage bin space of 50 tons, Leidhecker uses an air fan to dry the seeds to an acceptable moisture level for crushing.

Dried seeds are routed through an auger used for transport to a seed cleaner. This cleaner shakes the seeds and blows air on them, Leidhecker said.

The air blown helps separate the chafe, comprised of stalks and weeds, from the seeds.

Seeds are directed to a vessel above the company’s press, while the chafe goes into a separate bin.

Two screens shake the seeds back and forth, which further refines them from any residue. Gravity drops seeds into the press, where oil is separated from seed matter.

That seed matter exits the machine as animal feed pellets, while the oil gets directed to separate gravity-filtering bins.

Not to be forgotten, the chafe is further processed into furnace pellets. “It’s turning junk into something useful,” Young said.

Chafe goes into a hammer mill that Leidhecker said pounds the matter into material with a sawdust-like consistency.

Directed into a pellet mill, a die forms the furnace pellet shape that exits the machine.

Marketing for around $300 per ton, Leidhecker sells the animal feed pellets. He plans to make the furnace pellets available soon, which are worth about $180 per ton.

Growth potential is considerable for Leidhecker’s company, which includes the divisions known as Susquehanna Mills, Smartrecycling and Smartheat.

His press can crush more than 100 different types of seeds, and he’s already begun experiments with the camelina seed.

As Leidhecker plans to add three more presses soon, farmers may also consider growing camelina. This seed, he said, shows a lot of promise as it doesn’t require much fertilizer and pesticides.

Leidhecker is expecting to add 250 tons of seed storage space in the near future.

This summer, he hopes to contract farmers to grow canola in the winter.

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