Developing a Novel Low Cost Biodiesel and Biochar Processor for Rural Cameroon Using Locally Sourced Materials and Feedstocks

EPA Grant Number: SU835303
Title: Developing a Novel Low Cost Biodiesel and Biochar Processor for Rural Cameroon Using Locally Sourced Materials and Feedstocks
Investigators: Seay, Jeffrey R. , Silverstein, David
Current Investigators: Seay, Jeffrey R. , Butler, Bradley , Croft, Maxwell , Croft, William , Lewis, Kyle , Morgan, Joseph , Peeler, Mitchell , Silverstein, David , Watson, Zachary , Willett, Christina
Institution: University of Kentucky
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Phase: I
Project Period: August 15, 2012 through August 14, 2013
Project Amount: $15,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2012) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Energy , P3 Challenge Area - Materials & Chemicals , P3 Awards , Sustainability


The principal objective of this project is to develop low-cost, environmentally benign technologies for manufacturing equipment to produce biodiesel and the associated raw materials, i.e. methanol and base catalyst, from locally available resources by villagers in rural Cameroon in West Africa. To achieve this objective, three tasks are proposed:

  • Design of a low cost process for generating biochar and methanol by destructive wood distillation,
  • Design of a low cost process for generating biodiesel from locally sourced feedstocks,
  • Mechanical design and fabrication plans and an instructional construction video of a processor for producing biodiesel, biochar and methanol using locally sourced materials.

This project has been conceived through a partnership with the African Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology (ACREST) located in Bangang, Cameroon. The processor will be designed to be simple to build and operate and to cost less than 100 USD. Locally sourced scrap materials such as discarded steel drums and junkyard automobile parts will be the primary construction materials.


Although the production of biodiesel from vegetable oil and methanol from biochar production is certainly well understood, there are numerous technical challenges involved with adapting this technology for the developing world. Principle among these challenges are: ensuring that the design is robust enough to handle wide variations in feedstock quality; developing quality control safeguards for production in rural areas; and ensuring that the chemistry is well understood based on locally available resources.

In rural parts of Africa, electricity is often expensive and unreliable. Therefore the biodiesel processor will be designed to require no moving parts, operate without needing electricity and utilize a simple and innovative temperature control strategy. Although a loss in efficiency is expected due to the techniques employed, the student design will be rugged and extremely simple to build and operate, making it ideally suited for small scale producers in the developing world. Finally, the design team will integrate the design of the biodiesel processor with a process to collect methanol from the production of biochar.

Expected Results:

The result of this P3 project will be the design and construction of a prototype multifunction processor to generate biodiesel, biochar and methanol from locally available resources and feedstocks. The design will be simple to build, simple to operate and low cost, thus providing opportunities for entrepreneurs in rural villages in Cameroon or throughout West Africa.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 8 publications for this project

Journal Articles:

Journal Articles have been submitted on this project: View all 2 journal articles for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

Biofuels, Charcoal, Palm Oil, Jatropha Oil

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report