Granville County Farmer Fuels Farm With Biodiesel
If you go by Phillip Barker’s Granville County farm and his fleet of tractors is in operation, you might smell a distinct aroma of bacon in the air. It might not be breakfast time for the Farm Bureau member, but the smell is the result of the hard work Barker has put into a homemade biodiesel project.
For the past four years, Barker has not used any petroleum diesel to run the equipment at his farm, which includes a dairy and the growing of okra, collards and other vegetables.
“The big satisfaction is when it’s time to go out and plant crops, or whatever, and we don’t have to go out and buy 1,200 gallons of fuel in one pop and wonder where that money is coming from,” Barker says.
Barker explains that he and some close friends had been talking about making biodiesel for many years. The interest became more heightened as fuel prices exploded. That’s when Barker went to one of his farm buildings and started to build the infrastructure.
Just like the regularity of milking cows twice daily, Barker is in his shop (two times a day) tending to his biodiesel operation, which can churn out 40 gallons of fuel.
Barker takes that oil, adds the necessary chemicals and drops it into a heating vat he fashioned out of an old water heater. After a process that takes more than three hours to heat the mixture up to 110 degrees and cool it back down again, he mixes an exact amount of water to create his own biodiesel.
Before the fuel can be dropped into a tractor or other piece of equipment, it must stay in a settling tank for three days. That part of the process is the reverse of how milk separates. Instead of the heavy cream rising to the top, the sediment settles to the bottom and the refined biodiesel floats to the top.
Barker points out the entire process took a lot of trial and error, and he, his son and neighbors had to do their own research. But they’ve refined their processes to the point that he hasn’t had to tap a petroleum fuel pump in four years.
“It was really a necessity,” says Barker, who like other North Carolina farmers has seen diesel fuel prices reach $4 a gallon.
Whenever possible, Barker tries to gather used cooking oil from area restaurants to go along with the virgin canola oil
he grinds from seed purchased in Virginia. If he can gather as much as 200 gallons of used cooking oil at a time, Barker
says he can produce biodiesel for as low as $1.45 per gallon.
But because competition for that used cooking oil has become brisk, Barker is taking another approach. He has planted a total of 20 acres of canola seed plants in Granville and Johnston counties. He also received a federal grant to construct a 7,000-bushel granary to store this year’s canola crop.
“We’re now looking at how we’re going to build it into more of a business when we can grind our own seeds and refine it for our fuel,” says Barker, who hopes with more equipment he can make as much as 250 gallons of biodiesel at a time.
For now, Barker is quite pleased with how biodiesel has worked for his farm. Plus when he pushes up the throttle on a tractor, no black smoke blows out of the exhaust pipe.
“We’re getting pretty good results out of it,” Barker says.