Dr. Biodiesel | SummitDaily.com

Dr. Biodiesel

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Summit Daily/Brad Odekirk

SUMMIT COUNTY ” For years, Dr. Garrett Sullivan administered the stuff that put patients going under the knife to sleep as a local anesthesiologist. Today, he’s hoping the world wakes up to the problems we face as a consumptive nation dependent on fossil fuels.

His medical practice now deals with patients’ chronic pain management, but his secondary passion lies in alleviating pain at the gas pump. A self-proclaimed “home brewer” of pure biodiesel fuel made from the waste vegetable oil collected from local restaurants, Sullivan thinks diesel engines running at least partially on renewable veggie oil-based fuel can make a real difference.

“I’ve spent a career in anesthesia with the awareness that at some point, our consumptive behavior will reach a limit,” Sullivan said. “I’ve watched us not do nearly enough in terms of recycling and reducing our environmental footprint. Now I’m finally able to do something about it.”

The kernel of the idea sprouted from Sullivan’s extensive travels between Summit County, Glenwood Springs and Salida for his medical practice. He says he began thinking of ways to minimize his growing fuel costs, and upon investigation discovered biodiesel ” or renewable, biodegradable fuel derived from agricultural plant oils or animal fats.

What Sullivan found is that worldwide interest in the renewable energy source was on the rise ” big time. He did a little research, attended a week-long seminar, bought a $2,000 processor online, and was soon creating 100-percent biofuel from collected vegetable oil waste from local restaurants.

And today, the man increasingly being referred to around town as “Dr. Biodiesel” is trying build up a local business, called Colorado Biodiesel Solutions, around his homemade biofuel processing. He pitched his basic concept to the Board of County Commissioners Tuesday, and he speaks at the Our Future Summit forum on renewable energies tonight.

“The concept is to work with local governments to see if there’s not an economy of scale that can be achieved with the restaurants on the supply side and the county fleets on the demand side,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan informally collects waste vegetable oil from local restaurants, who for the most part are happy to see someone take it off of their hands. Restaurants now pay for rendering services to come haul the grease away.

The Summit County chapter of the Colorado Restaurant Association claims 120 member restaurants, and estimates that there are more than 250 restaurants across the county. Sullivan conservatively estimates that they produce more than 200,000 gallons of waste vegetable oil every year. An efficient processing plant, which Sullivan could see the county building, could make nearly that much in 100 percent biodiesel fuel, which sells for between $3.25 and $3.50 a gallon.

But the county could be a major demander of the biofuel as well, in Sullivan’s business vision. “Any governmental organization that drives a large fleet is a logical and natural client,” he said.

Recently, the entire Summit County fleet of buses and diesel vehicles switched over to a 10-percent blend of soybean-based biodiesel and regular fossil fuel. They plan to increase that to a 20-percent blend during the warm summer months (cold temperatures are a real trouble-spot when it comes to biofuels).

Studies have shown that by using a 20-percent blend of bioproduct and petroleum diesel, particulate matter is reduced 31 percent, carbon monoxide drops 21 percent, and total hydrocarbons decrease by 47 percent.

Summit Stage director John Jones, who led the county’s transition to the biodiesel program, is interested in Sullivan’s idea, but says there is a lot of detail yet to be worked out if his plan is to come to fruition.

“My only real concern with the product (Dr. Sullivan) is making is that not every restaurant uses the same type of oil to fry stuff in,” Jones said. “I’d have some reservations about that. I’d need a little bit more information before we tried anything.”

Having restaurants supply more uniform waste oil is an issue, but Sullivan thinks that if they adopted the use of more high-quality “carboys” ” large protective plastic carriers that are used to hold corrosive liquids or chemicals ” the oil could be warm-filtered and become more amenable to processing.

Another issue is the delicacy seemingly required in the blending process. The county only adopted their recent biodiesel program after much research into working with a reputable outfit that creates the blend very near the refinery process itself. Sullivan said that simple “splash blending” ” or carefully adding 100 percent biofuel to regular diesel under the right temperature conditions ” is all a program requires. Jones isn’t as dismissive.

“Now we’ve got a blender that is doing it at the distributor level. He’s making sure of his consistency of product, he’s using the right binders ” I don’t buy the splash agitation theory,” Jones said.

Sullivan is one of those bleeding-edge type guys, though, and his passion for the promising fuel technology is apparent, and contagious. One of the main obstacles he sees here in America now is the lack of passenger vehicles with diesel engines.

In Europe, diesel cars are commonplace. But it took some investigation for Sullivan to seek out his current two diesel cars here in the U.S. ” a new Volkswagen Beetle and a VW Jetta, both powered with turbo diesel engines.

The options for American four-wheel-drive vehicles with diesel engines are even fewer; aside from some light-duty trucks, the Jeep Liberty is the only true four-wheel-drive vehicle locally available with a diesel engine, Sullivan said.

Duffy Hayes can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13611, or at dhayes@summitdaily.com.

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