By Richard Westlund
For Progress & Innovation
One of the Treasure Coast’s innovative manufacturing companies is recovering from a serious setback this spring.
Viesel Fuel has developed a new process to produce biodiesel fuel using fats, oils and greases from wastewater— a renewable energy business with worldwide potential.
But on April 1, a fire at the Stuart company’s facility destroyed six 10,000-gallon tanks of biodiesel and one tank of methanol. Fortunately, the company’s research and development operations, as well as its biodiesel processing plant, had relatively little damage.
“We are moving forward, and will be back into operation as soon as possible,” said Stuart Lamb, president and CEO, Viesel Fuel, LLC, which has 45 employees, including five chemical engineers.
While the loss of the storage tanks has impacted the company’s timetable, Lamb expects Viesel Fuel to regain its momentum later this year.
“We have been working on our process for several years, and are ready to take it from the laboratory to the commercial market,” he said in an interview prior to the fire.
Last year, Viesel Fuel reached an agreement to produce biodiesel using an enzymatic process developed by Novozymes, a Danish biotechnology company that is one of the world’s largest producers of enzymes.
Crystal-clear diesel fuel
“We can use those enzymes to turn grease, cooking oil, fish oil, fats and similar substances into crystalclear diesel fuel that can power large systems or small generators in rural communities around the world,” Lamb said. “These enzymes are magical, provided you give them the right env i ronment .”
First, the fats, oils and greases (FOG) are removed from the “sludge” at a wastewater treatment plant, Lamb said. Next, the FOG is separated from any wastewater and poured into a tank, where the enzymes are added.
Viesel Fuel has developed a process that keeps the liquid moving continuously for 12 to 15 hours until it turns into biodiesel fuel.
Previously, biodiesel fuel was typically produced in a “ batch” process that was less efficient and could lead to uneven results.
Real, scalable technology
Last year, Viesel Fuel produced 7.5 million gallons of biodiesel fuel, from FOG materials taken from a Miami-Dade wastewater plant. The company has obtained approvals from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use the use of FOG as an approved biomass and for use of the biodiesel as a fuel additive.
“This is not experimental technology,” said Lamb. “It is real and very scalable as well.”
For instance, a rural village without electricity could use Viesel’s process to make biodiesel fuel for tractors or generators in a five-gallon drum. A large industrial operation put the enzyme process to work in a 500,000-gallon tank.
Game-changer for energy
Lamb said Viesel’s affiliated company, Viesel Skunk Works, plans to license its technology and provide training to prospective users. “We will also work with Novozymes to implement this process in markets like Southeast Asia, South America and Africa,” he said. “This is truly a gamechanger for the energy industry and it’s happening right here in Stuart.”