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WisBusiness: Accelerated Renewable Energy aims to turn waste into fuel, only faster

By Kari Fischer
For WisBusiness.com

Progress in “next generation” biofuels depends on reducing costs, often by speeding products through the production process and increasing efficiencies. That’s what Thomas Roa hopes to accomplish with his plan to improve the production of biodiesel.

Because the basic process for producing biodiesel hasn’t changed in 40 years, Roa sees potential to make the process more efficient by taking time out of the equation.

One-hundred gallons of biodiesel takes about 48 hours to produce, but with Tomas Roa’s accelerated process that time could be reduced to a merely a couple of hours. With gasoline hovering around $4 per gallon, this technology could play an important role in the future of fuel.

Roa, of Monona, was one of contestants chosen to move to the second round in the Governor’s Business Plan Contest in the Advanced Manufacturing category. Roa has developed improvements for the process of producing biodiesel. His proposed change in process would dramatically reduce the amount of time and inputs necessary for a production process.

Roa’s technology is based upon what he calls designer polymers. These polymers speed up the chemical processes and can do so at much lower temperatures than those polymers currently in use, reducing the energy, time and money required for production of biodiesel.

Initial investment by producers would be minimal, as the same equipment currently in use can be used. Roa plans to partner with current biodiesel producers to improve their production processes, providing them with a one-year trial of his accelerated process. Licenses would be sold in the future.

For Wisconsin farmers it could mean a move toward self-sufficiency. “A farmer can allocate acreage to feedstock crops and produce roughly 150 to 200 gallons per acre, per crop," he said.

Engines running on biodiesel made from waste oil release almost 80 percent less carbon dioxide than typical diesel engines. In addition, the fuel is much easier on the engine, according to Roa.

“In a national sense, energy prices continue to skyrocket. Bio-diesel can be seen as a more economic savvy way of meeting fuel needs," Roa said.

The company is one of 49 finalists in the annual Business Plan Contest, which concludes Wednesday at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in Milwaukee.

-- Fischer is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.

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