PARIS TOWNSHIP, Ohio – Aaron Harnar isn’t quite sure about his future, but he has great hope that something he discovered doing a college research project may change his life forever.
The Portage County man thinks he has discovered a better and less expensive process for making biodiesel that will revolutionize its acceptance and use.
Harnar, who graduated from Hiram College in Hiram, Ohio, last spring, isn’t an inventor and what he is offering isn’t entirely new. It is a new process that combines existing technology and products in an innovative way. He is calling it the “Harnar Process” for biodiesel production.
National idea exchange. His idea was innovative enough to get him selected as one of only 15 national finalists for this year’s American Farm Bureau Farmer Idea Exchange.
Harnar was invited to the Farm Bureau national convention in Reno, Nev., to showcase his idea, which he believes could be a real boon to farmers of any size.
Harnar believes he has discovered a way to produce biodiesel that is flexible enough to make it possible for every farmer to make his own in a 50-gallon drum, or for an industrial producer to synthesize biodiesel in a 50 million gallon tank without heat or energy, and at a 25 percent savings over current processes.
If his process was put into production by a large company, Harnar said it would bring the cost of biodiesel down to a more competitive level, and would therefore increase the market for soy or other oil-producing beans.
Create local markets. But the process is also simple enough that farmers could create their own fuel or go into limited or cooperative production to supply local fuel needs.
And since the process can create its own ethanol as it produces biodiesel, it would also increase the demand for corn or other bioproducts that create sugars for fermentation.
Harnar has applied for a provisional patent to protect his discovery.
It all came about, he said, because of his interest in ethanol.
Harnar majored in biology at Hiram, with an emphasis on biochemistry. Last year he decided to use Hiram’s three-week term to pursue an independent research project to study the biochemistry of ethanol.
“I have always been interested in the idea of biofuel,” he said, “and couldn’t figure out why ethanol couldn’t be produced in a more cost efficient way. I didn’t really know too much about biodiesel when I started this. I was looking for a clue to producing cheaper ethanol.”
New catalyst. What he found in medical research literature, however, was an experimental process that used a catalyst agent to produce a medically useful product. In the report, Harnar recognized the chemical signature of what the medical project considered the byproduct of its experiment. The medically useless result of the process was biodiesel.
He determined that by using that same catalyst, biodiesel could be produced in an entirely new way, cutting the cost of production in several ways.
Traditionally, biodiesel is produced from oil that is squeezed from oil seed. In the Harnar Process, the squeezing step, and the expensive equipment required to do that, could be eliminated. All that’s required is to crush the beans or seeds into a particle form.
Soybeans, canola, sunflower, or any other oilseed would be suitable, he said.
Simpler process. The oilseed particles would be combined with water in the bottom of a drum to create a pulp. Then a sugar of some kind would be added. That could be the ground corn, which is traditionally used to produce ethanol, he said. A fermentation agent would be needed to turn the corn into ethanol, and then the catalyst that he has discovered could be added.
In the production of biodiesel, a catalyst is required to bind the oil with the alcohol, which then becomes lighter than water. In Harnar’s process, the biodiesel would then float to the top of the drum.
Harnar said typically some kind of acid or lime is used as the catalyst. The catalyst he has discovered is a biological agent – renewable, self-sustaining, and non-toxic.
When the biodiesel floats to the top of the tank, it could be siphoned into some kind of funnel, where the water could be drained out the bottom and returned to the tank with the catalyst still intact to be used over and over again.
Cost savings. His process eliminates much of the transportation cost involved in bringing both the alcohol and a catalyst agent from a separate site. The catalyst is self-sustaining so it wouldn’t have to be purchased for each tank of biodiesel.
The alcohol, in this case ethanol, would be fermented in the tank, and since the pure form would not be required, it wouldn’t have to be distilled, eliminating the need for the energy to boil the water out of a fermentation tank.
“The main expense,” he said, “would be the seed.”
Comparing his process with an experiment conducted in 1995 at the University of Idaho testing the economic feasibility of producing biodiesel in the conventional way from canola seed, where the canola seed had cost $9 a hundredweight to produce, Harnar estimates his process would cut about 25 percent off the $2.56 a gallon reported production cost.
That would bring production cost down to the $2 a gallon range, he said.
Public exposure. Although Harnar did not win the top prize in the Farmer Idea Exchange competition – that went to a trap door forage wagon invented by an Illinois farmer – he sees the fact that his process was exhibited at the national convention as the public exposure he needed.
He is hoping it might bring attract the attention of a company interested in acquiring a license to put the process into production.
Bill and Jackie Garmier, who own and operate Renewable Lubricants in Hartville, represented Harnar at the Farm Bureau convention and presented the process on his behalf to the National Biodiesel Board. Renewable Lubricants produces a soy-based motor oil that has been promoted by the Ohio Soy Council.
Harnar is hoping the national board will help him market his process, either by using their connections to locate a company to purchase the license or by finding him grant money to complete the research on his process and get it ready for production.
Harnar is currently at home on his parents 40-acre farm in Portage County west of Newton Falls. He can be reached at 330-872-5848 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
(You can contact Jackie Cummins at 800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org)