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BARBADOS - Handel Callender

Compliments of the Nation News

Handel Callender processes the environmentally-friendly fuel in this small tank. Inset Callender says a few companies are already showing an interest in using bio-diesel.Handel Callender processes the environmentally-friendly fuel in this small tank. Inset Callender says a few companies are already showing an interest in using bio-diesel.

by MELISSA WICKHAM

A MAN in a soiled T-shirt and pants stretched out his hand to greet us.

"Hi, I'm Handel Callender," he said. He directed us to his working quarters - a small, dark room in the back of the Future Centre, Edgehill, St Thomas.

As if guessing our thoughts, he quickly apologised, saying he was sorry about the way he was dressed, but said that was how he usually looked at work.

As soon as we entered his "office" everything became clear.

There were buckets upon buckets containing a brown substance, probably what stained his clothes, and two big processing tanks - one larger than the other.

Handel began to explain what exactly this substance was and how it had taken him two years of research to develop a fuel alternative called bio-diesel.

"This is used vegetable oil," he said, continuing: "I collect the oil from hotels and restaurants and turn it into bio-diesel. I'm still doing benchmark testing before I actually start selling the fuel."

It might seem like a strange hobby but Handel, the managing director of Native Sun NRG, a renewable energy company, is turning it into big business.

Already, three local companies are interested in testing his product - Williams Equipment, Organic Growers Association and Acme Sales.

Basically, the same oil used for cooking could be used to fuel vehicles and machinery, and, at a much cheaper price than regular diesel. If it gets off the ground, bio-diesel could be the answer to rising fuel costs.

Not only that, it will kill two birds with one stone by also reducing carbon dioxide emissions in the air, thus making it environmentally-friendly.

So, the next time you fry that chicken or fish, think twice about throwing out the oil.

The idea came about when Handel spent some time in the Dominican Republic doing volunteer community development work to help eradicate poverty there a few years ago.

"I was working there for a couple of months and because the rural communities there have very little acces to electricity, I thought of converting the oil from the coconuts - since they have an abundance of coconut trees - into bio-diesel.

"Unfortunately, I didn't stay long enough to complete that project," said Handel, who has a Bachelor of Science degree in Social Ecology from Schumacher College in Britain.

When he returned to Barbados, he worked with the late Dr Colin Hudson and continued to develop his work.

He entered a number of science competitions, won some and did pretty well in others like the Enterprise Growth Fund Innovation Award, where he placed second last year.

Much of the prize money was used to purchase equipment and further his research.

Though the idea for bio-diesel isn't new, since there are quite a few places in Europe and the United States where it is utilised, it certainly is a new concept for Barbados, which depends heavily on fossil fuel.

Handel knows he will not be able to eliminate the use of regular diesel because there are only about four million litres of used vegetable oil available in Barbados every year, while in 2003 alone, Barbadians used about 97 million litres of diesel.

He is hoping, however, to supplement it in an effort to reduce the environmental hazards.

"Bio-diesel is completely non-toxic and biodegradable. The carbon dioxide is zero. Because the vegetable oil came from plants which naturally absorb carbon dioxide, that means it will have carbon dioxide in it.

"So, when you burn bio-diesel, you are not producing new carbon dioxide you are just recycling it. So there is not accumulation of carbon dioxide," he explained.

One of the key ingredients in bio-diesel production is methanol. It converts the vegetable oil into a substance that a diesel engine can handle.

But because methanol is derived from fossil fuel, Handel is looking to use a more environmentally-friendly alternative - ethanol, which comes from sugar cane.

This would not only make it 100 per cent environmentally safe but also 100 per cent Bajan.

The benefits of bio-diesel certainly outweigh the drawbacks.

"It is cheaper. At the moment, I can sell it for $1.30 a litre compared to regular diesel which is about $1.44.

"The only thing that drives the cost up is methynol which is very expensive. That accounts for about 50 per cent of the cost," he said.

He could make the fuel from fresh vegetable oil but that would make it slightly more expensive.

In addition, it runs in any conventional, unmodified diesel engine. Engines running on bio-diesel run normally and have similar fuel mileage to engines running on diesel fuel. Auto ignition, fuel consumption, power output and engine torque are relatively unaffected by it.

According to Handel, some of the problems include thickening in cold climates, which isn't a problem for Barbados.

And, it is a solvent for natural rubber, so car tyres will start to corrode after a while. But, most vehicles after 1993 are synthetic, Handel said, so it shouldn't pose a problem for those cars.

Before he started collecting used vegetable oil, it usually ended up at the dump in Lonesome Hill, St Peter. However, Handel still only recycles a small percentage.

He recently got permission to collect more from the Lonesome Hill dump and is hoping to start an initiative to get householders to store their used vegetable oil for collection just like they would recycled paper or plastic.

Handel has two tanks which can produce over 300 gallons of bio-diesel at present. All he needs is additional funding to produce it on a commercial scale and

"I would be able to process bio-diesel in the millions of gallons".

 

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