The maelstrom immediately after the presentation.
The maelstrom immediately after the presentation.
Describing himself as the “fattest Vegan” you’ll ever meet, Bob danced, barefoot, through a presentation on the Testing of Biodiesel Using Gas Chromatography. With his penchant for full disclosure, he admitted he had flunked chemistry twice at the undergraduate level eliciting a response of “Congratulations!” from the 60 or so biodiesel enthusiasts attending this lecture.

We were attending a Biodiesel Conference aimed at home brewers, which drew about 130 people for a weekend of fascinating presentations. The organizers had reserved an auditorium and three classrooms to accommodate more than 30 talks on a wide range of Biodiesel related topics from grease trap oil collection to marketing.

The conference drew a nice combination of idealists (mostly the home brewers who simply wished to escape the grip of Big Oil) and Entrepreneurs, those visionaries who knew a good thing when they saw it and were interested in riding the Biodiesel wave to fruition.

A short program in the big auditorium Friday evening, set the tone of the conference with personal perspectives from the home brewer, the engineer, the educator, the community-based producer and the small scale producer (Bob.) In his talk that evening, Bob had invoked the visions of Ganhdi, Shumacher and Vandana Shiva to explain how he had come to be involved in the making fuel from used cooking oil.

Having removed his rubber slippers for comfort, Bob was obviously enjoying himself. He peppered his presentation with jokes, descriptive gestures and frequent dialog with his audience. Asking for a show of hands for those with lab experience or a chemistry background, he tapped into the audience’s expertise, pointing out the person with a PHD who “works in a REAL lab.”

Regarding calibration, Bob said the GC was “almost as much fun to maintain as boilers.” He was clearly tickled by how much he had learned since attaining the GC seven months ago. When ordering a replacement syringe over the phone, for instance, he learned the correct way to describe his problem when the buyer said, “Oh, you Zee-ed our your syringe!” “I’m a lab rat, now!” he told the room, with a joyful little hop.

He pointed out that the compressed gasses used in the GC cost between $50 and $70 per tank but that compared to the other costs involved “this is chump change.” At this point, the moderator motioned to him and he said, “I get to go until 11:30?” and turned to the audience with “If you need to doze off – please feel free!”

He showed a slide of lab equipment and supplies, which included a box of latex gloves. A moment later, he was quick to say, “These are my see-through gloves” when we came to a picture of him placing a vial into a glass box while not wearing gloves.

For safety reasons, he stressed that you should never put lab chemicals in the same refrigerator as your lunch. Then he told a story about something that shouldn’t be done involving “the guy who no longer works for RMBI for reasons like the one I’m about to tell you.”

It was obvious that Bob has thoroughly enjoyed learning the technology and playing with vials, pipettes and rubber bladders. To measure an exact amount of liquid, the procedure involved “taking that little Pasteur pipette with the fun rubber bulb” squeezing it and drawing the liquid into the pipette.

At the end of his ninety minutes, Bob had taken us on a fun romp through Lab Land, given us a much better understanding of a complicated process and left us chuckling over what could easily have been a very dry presentation.

By Camille Armantrout

Camille lives with her soul mate Bob in the back woods of central North Carolina where she hikes, gardens, cooks, and writes.