For years now, the biodiesel industry has been led by the pioneering and innovative strides of Santa Barbara-based Biodico. Its president, Russell Teall, a UCSB graduate, founded the company in the mid 1990s, and since then the biodiesel manufacturer has taken its expertise worldwide, conducting biodiesel feasibility studies in numerous countries from Argentina to Thailand, as well as opening biofuel production facilities at home and abroad, in Australia, Texas, Colorado, Nevada, and California.

Around seven years ago, Biodico struck a cooperative research and development agreement with the U.S. Navy. Four years later, a major California-based space and defense contractor named Aerojet joined them. With an operations base at the National Environmental Test Site in Port Hueneme in Ventura County, they planned to design and develop biodiesel production technology the industry had never seen before. Mobile, modular, and capable of being deployed in almost any location, ARIES (Automated, Real-time, Remote, Integrated Energy System) is a highly laborsaving, transportable biodiesel production unit that can be controlled remotely from anywhere.

In March of last year, Biodico was awarded a grant from the California Energy Commission (CEC) to the tune of over $800,000. Biodico’s success in furthering the progress of biofuel production best satisfied the CEC’s criteria of working to displace the need for fossil fuels. And just a month ago, Biodico was again awarded funds from the CEC, this time for $2 million; the criteria this time was for advancing technologies that support the displacement of older sources of electricity, as well as supporting the integration of newer ones. The CEC’s purpose in allotting these grants is to promote California’s energy self-sufficiency and reduction of harmful emissions, and it seems Biodico couldn’t be more aligned with this goal.

“ARIES has certainly been part of it,” said Teall, explaining why the CEC has been so favorable. It introduces a fundamental transformation in the production of biofuel; not only does it overcome the obstacles that older methods face — mostly to do with expensive, time-consuming procedures for quality control — but, also, it enables any central biofuel-producing facility to provide, on a global basis, technical, monitoring, and operational support, all driven by advanced automation technology.

“The funds we received will allow us to broaden what it is we are already doing to include other renewable energy products for the use of the production of biofuel,” said Teall. “We’re working on marginal soil, stuff farmers can’t grow on, and developing feedstock from mustard and canola seeds — and along with our pond-grown algae, which is very prolific, nutrient-rich, and, importantly, salt-water based, we can produce 25 times as much energy without costing the health of the environment.”

Joining Teall in this venture is Dr. Stephen Kaffka, the director of the California Biomass Collaborative and plant scientist at UC Davis, and John Diener, the president of the 5,400-acre Red Rock Ranch located in California’s Central Valley. While Kaffka will be conducting research at four of Davis’s agricultural research stations, studying unique low-impact feedstock suitable for underused land, Deiner will scale up Kaffka’s work for commercial-grade farming. His specialty in practicing water conservation and reuse, along with his expertise in cultivating conventional and organic crops, will be vital to the project.

“It’s really an elegant system we’ve got going, and I think that’s why we were able to win those grants,” said Teall. “It takes all the by-products, coproducts, and ‘waste’ that are typically squandered, and turns them into valuable resources.”

He added, “One of our project’s ultimate goals is reducing our energy footprint. California is leading the way in promoting innovative technologies to reduce greenhouse gases, and we are proud to be a part of that endeavor.”

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