Summer camp includes biodiesel lesson

By Kris Bevill | August 08, 2008
Web exclusive posted August 29, 2008 at 3:01 p.m. CST

Every summer, Calleva Inc.'s adventure camp near Poolsville, Md., offers teens and preteens the opportunity to spend a week exploring outdoor adventures including lessons in kayaking, sailing-and biodiesel production.

This year was the second consecutive summer that camp instructor Omar Hakeem has offered a week-long camp focused on sustainable building construction and other sustainable living practices. Hakeem, better known as "Mo" to the campers, has been an instructor at the camp for many years and is himself a student at the University of Minnesota, where he's completing his architectural master's degree with a focus on sustainable living. He decided to bring his passion to the camp and began offering "Building Green with Mo" last year. For a fee of $495, children ages nine to 15 can spend a week learning what it means to build things with sustainable materials. This summer, Hakeem and his eager crew built a "green" treehouse and compost toilets � not your usual summer camp activities. Hakeem said response from both campers and parents has been great. "The kids surprise you with their comments," he said, adding that they enjoy getting dirty and using tools to build something with their own hands. Hakeem's weeklong session was offered for 10 weeks this summer, with approximately 100 boys and girls, mostly ages 12 to 15, participating.

One day of the building green week is spent touring the camp's biodiesel production facilities and learning how it's made. This unique opportunity is made possible by the efforts of two of the camp's directors, Matt Markoff and Dave Ritter.

Ritter said it was Markoff's initial idea to produce biodiesel for use at the camp as part of the organization's building green initiative. About two years ago, Markoff and Ritter began researching the feasibility of biodiesel production and after "making mayonnaise" for about six months, began producing small quantities of biodiesel.

Campers who tour the production facility are shown the basics involved in biodiesel production and given the opportunity to see what it takes to make the fuel, as well as learn about other alternative fuel options. Because the production process contains various chemicals, campers don't get too many hands-on activities that day, but "having the grease on their pants adds to the experience," Ritter said. "They're going to remember that and the next time they eat French fries for dinner they might think about how the oil that was used to cook their dinner can now be used to make biodiesel."

According to Ritter, Calleva collects yellow grease from six local restaurants to use as feedstock. The camp is in the process of moving the production equipment to a larger building and has purchased a new reactor capable of producing 300-gallon batches. Once up and running again, he said they hope to operate year-round, producing 600 gallons of biodiesel per week. The sole purpose of the camp's biodiesel production is to fuel its fleet of buses, tractors and other vehicles. Camp officials would like to have enough production by next summer to fuel the fleet with B20.

Self-taught producers Ritter and Markoff consulted with other local "home brewers" to gain insight into various production methods. Ritter said he doesn't see home fuel production as an alternative to commercially-produced fuel, but thinks it's a good option for facilities such as camps and ranches that have their own fleets of vehicles.
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