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You are here: > News > November 25, 2009

Widtsoe Institute facilitates farmers growing their own fuel/meal

Utah's newly-formed Widtsoe Institute envisions seeing local farmers not only growing their own fuel, but also providing feed for local livestock, while also producing enough excess fuel for the diesel fleets of the various government entities in the valley.

Matt Palmer, of Utah State University, gave a presentation titled: Utilization of biodiesel byproducts for small producers


Alan Christensen from the Utah Small Business Development Center informed the symposium on resources to help make money in sustainable energy.

by Sterling D. Allan
Pure Energy Systems News
Copyright © 2009

I wrote the following to be submitted to the local newspaper: the Sanpete Messenger for publication in the Dec. 216 edition.

EPHRAIM, UTAH, USA -- Rudolf Diesel, who invented the Diesel engine, envisioned farmers being able to grow their own fuel to run their farm, so as to not be vulnerable to national or international price fluctuations and supply chain interruptions.

If those involved with central Utah's newly-formed Widtsoe Institute see their vision fulfilled, this dream could be taken even further, seeing the local farmers not only growing their own fuel, but also providing feed for local livestock, while also producing enough excess fuel for the diesel fleets of the various government entities in the valley.

On Thursday Nov. 19th, 2009, a Renewable Energy Symposium was held on the Snow College Ephraim campus, with the primary topic being producing biofuel from seed crops grown locally, yielding a byproduct that can serve as food for livestock. In this model, the fuel feedstock is not competing with the food chain, but serves a symbiotic role.

Throughout the day, around ten presenters from several states discussed different facets involved in this model, including what kinds of plants give the best yields per climate, the chemistry of converting seed crop to biodiesel and meal, the economics and risk factors, the amount of oil that needs to be retained in the meal for the animals, the health benefits to the animals and to the consumers of certain crops such as camelina, a history of the project, and small business development resources available. A similar symposium was held last year at Snow's Richfield campus.

Some local professionals including farmers and professors have been involved for several years in birthing this model of developing fuel from local agriculture, including growing test crops. Now they are forming a non-profit organization, the Widtsoe Institute, to formalize this initiative in central Utah. Their website will be up by the end of the month at The institute is named after the Utahan, John A. Widtsoe (1872-1952), a world-class agronomist.

The institute is not presently formally aligned with any government organizations, though an amiable relationship exists generally, and cooperation is likely, especially with Snow College, which is highly supportive of the initiative, as is Utah State University. The Widtsoe Institute is hopeful that Sanpete and surrounding counties can begin to implement this model in earnest soon and set it forth as a model for other communities to imitate. 

The multi-use biofuel process isn't unique to the Widtsoe Institute or to Utah, but perhaps what makes this pioneering effort notable is the scope of implementation being considered and how far along they are toward seeing it become a reality on a larger scale. "This makes it a national story," said symposium organizer and institute board member, Michael Orton.

Michael Orton, a board member of the Widtsoe Institute, organized the Renewable Energy symposium.

At the last board meeting of the nascent Widtsoe Institute early last summer, Snow College president, Scott Wyatt, suggested that the institute set an ambitious goal – locally akin to President Kennedy's moon shot challenge issued in 1961. Wyatt recommended the goal of producing enough biodiesel to run all of the Sanpete county's diesel vehicles, including its public school bus fleet. "We could easily do it for the college, and could probably go much beyond that," he said.

This goal is still in the exploratory stages, as the school district, Sanpete county, and other potential partners in the valley have not yet been formally approached about joining in this initiative.

Snow College is very close to running its two diesel buses on diesel made from the spent oil that comes from Food Services. Proud of the school's various sustainable initiatives, Wyatt also mentions on the side that their nearly completed library will be "green" – fully LEED certified. Many of the institute's founders and board members are Snow college faculty, though the institute is an autonomous entity. 

If I can wax personal here, and jump into this story as its writer, I should mention that I am involved in a project that is part of the Utah Sustainability Council, to bring many Walipini greenhouses to Sanpete Valley – eventually enough to become a breadbasket for Utah and Salt Lake counties. It is conceivable that these Walipinis, a concept developed by BYU's Benson Institute, could also provide enough crop, inexpensively enough, that in addition to food, Sanpete valley could provide all of its own fuel for all vehicles, not just government, thus helping make Sanpete Valley sustainable, not just in its food but in its fuel as well.

Alan Tripp, a board member of the Widtsoe Institute, gave an address on Biodiesel frontiers in the Central Utah region

Widtsoe Institute board member, Al Tripp, of Spring City, invites those who are interested in getting involved in birthing this initiative; whether it be to plant seed crop, or to be involved in the fuel processing; to visit the institute's website to learn more about it and contact them. In particular, he recommends a white paper he coauthored titled: Farm Fuel Frontiers: Opportunities and Challenges of Growing and Refining On-farm Fuel in Utah. It was published last year in the centennial edition (March 21) of The Journal of the Utah Academy of Science, Arts, and Letters. Orton welcomes inquiries at 435-893-9146, or via email to 

The paper states that "fuel self-sustainability for the agriculture sector in Utah using biodiesel is potentially attainable." The 11 million gallons of diesel that Utah agriculture uses each year for 961,037 acres of harvested crop land could be grown by Utah farmers. On one extreme, it could be processed by thousands of 50-gallon production units; or on the other extreme, it could be processed by eleven centrally located one-million-gallon plants. Producing 11 million gallons of vegetable oil from seeds would yield approximately 69,426 tons of seed meal for Utah's animal feed industry.

Presently, the closest processing plant that is contracting with farmers to extract oil from seeds and producing biodiesel is in Dove Creek, Colorado. There are two mid-size plants (500,000 gallons/year) under construction in Utah and Millard counties.

Methanol is required for the processing of biodiesel. A methanol plant is located in Milford, but it was shut down due to the cost of shipping the product to California, which was the customer base at the time. 

Biodiesel is fully functional as a fuel in modern diesel engines, with a small disadvantage due to the biodiesel gelling at cold temperatures – something that is overcome with additives or by blending it with petroleum diesel. Dale Jensen, a presenter at the Widtsoe Institute's Nov. 19 symposium, discussed performance trials in Sevier County.

In some cases, the seeds produced for fuel feedstock can fetch a higher price for human consumption, in which case that is the market they should serve, rather than as feedstock for biodiesel and meal for livestock.

Dale Lewis of Spring City, also took a few minutes at Thursday's symposium to give an update on his initiative to build a natural gas and biodiesel filling station to Sanpete County via his business, TK Oil.  One of the obstacles he bemoaned was the subsidy that Questar Gas gets in order to provide natural gas at 96 cents a gallon, when the true market costs of the fuel is $1.40/gallon, making it hard for free market competitors to enter.  He also cited how tax credits and the EPA serve as obstacles in making vehicles conversions impractical.  He instructs people of how to convert their vehicles and lets them do it themselves -- an "easy task".  Doug Spencer of Mount Pleasant does conversions for people, but at a higher price due to having to comply with EPA regulations.

Here is an interview I conducted with Michael Orton on the day of the symposium. 

I attended the conference with Randy Tolbert of Access Solar.  My family is staying in his solar guest house while we build our own sustainable home (presently in the designing stages).

# # #


Here's a news bullet I prepared later today for tomorrow's Thanksgiving festivities.  Call it coincidence, but these wild turkeys showed up the morning of the above-mentioned symposium.

  • Humor / Health >
    Wild Turkeys visit vegan's solar home - We had about 15 wild turkeys come visit the guest solar home we are renting while we build our sustainable home here in Sanpete Valley, Utah. We figure in this valley full of factory turkey facilities, these wild guys felt safe coming by our place this time of year because we are vegan. (YouTube; Nov. 24, 2009)


  • Feel free to view/post comments at our version of this story.

See also


Page composed by Sterling D. Allan Nov. 24, 2009
Last updated December 21, 2009


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