Photo: Kevin Humphrey (right) with student.
Since 2008, the biodiesel and plant-based products lab at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro has been producing protein-rich meal to feed the university’s on-site farm animals, along with biodiesel to power the farm equipment.
Funding from a Department of Energy (DOE) grant allowed Dr. Kevin Humphrey to design a system that could be easily duplicated to serve local farms across the state.
Humphrey, an associate professor of ag education, uses multiple oil sources – soybeans, camellia, waste vegetable oil and canola – to produce biodiesel.
The soybean oil is extracted from soybeans grown on campus using the mechanical oil press method (see photo of the lab’s press). Humphrey runs 50 gallons of the finished oil into an automated processor and after eight hours, the first by-product of crude glycerin is drained. The remaining biodiesel is then pumped through drying and polishing towers.
Once the finished biodiesel is placed in the dispensing tank, it is available and ready for use.
Humphrey also has become something of an evangelist for biodiesel and the income potential it offers, especially to young people.
“Often overlooked today are the variety of entrepreneurial opportunities in the agricultural industry,” he says. “Many young people look at their employment options as only working for someone else. I ask, what about looking at the possibility of being the boss, creating your own business?”
Humphrey has taken his biodiesel lab model to high school classrooms across northeast Arkansas. He even worked with a professional development initiative to partner with a summer workshop for chemistry, technology and ag teachers to show them how to set up a biodiesel plant-based lab in their classrooms.
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After the completion of the workshop, teachers could take home a biodiesel-in-a-box kit, which allowed Arkansas students to make biodiesel.
The biodiesel and plant-based products lab at ASU has produced 500 gallons of biodiesel and 30 tons of protein-rich meal to date. Dr. Humphrey is also looking for a local vendor to use the glycerin, a byproduct from the biodiesel process, to craft beauty and skincare products like lotions, soaps and shampoos, even a pore vacuum.
Humphrey hopes to find additional individuals who are interested in establishing similar processing facilities to increase economic development and opportunities in rural communities.