Initiating Sustainability through the Production of Biodiesel Fuels

In the not too distant future, Piedmont Community College’s (PCC) lawn mowers and yard equipment could be powered by biodiesel fuels produced from cooking oils used in the College’s snack bar. PCC is taking the lead in promoting sustainability and training for “green” jobs in the rural North Carolina region where it is located. A Greenforce Initiative grant helped us pursue this goal by providing funds for training on specialized equipment used in the production of biodiesel fuels.

Efforts began in August 2008, when PCC’s Business Development and Entrepreneurship Center (BDEC) acquired an Appleseed Biodiesel reactor and set up the reactor on the PCC campus with the advice and assistance of a colleague from a nearby community College. Assembled from locally acquired materials, the reactor is used to produce biodiesel fuel from residual cooking oil. The biodiesel fuel can be used for a number of purposes, including fuel for vehicles or even to heat homes (fuel oil).

As lead instructor in PCC’s Biotechnology and Laboratory Technology programs, I became involved in setting up and using the reactor as well as instructing students in both the BDEC Continuing Education and the Curriculum (credit) program on the production and use of biodiesel fuel from recycled and renewable sources. The experience was enhanced greatly by collaborating with colleagues from other colleges in the North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS) and NCCCS BioNetwork.

BioNetwork supports the NCCCS mission of aligning world class workforce training and education to the biotechnology, pharmaceutical and life science industries. BioNetwork trains at all levels of this industry, upgrading the skills of incumbent workers, from entry level to management.

Sharing ideas with others in NCCCS and BioNetwork is a valuable partnership. Through these programs, PCC has been awarded grants to purchase analytical instrumentation to train students for these industries. Two of these pieces of equipment are the Fourier Transform lnfrared Spectrophotometry (FTIR) and Karl Fisher Titrator.

photo courtesy of Randy Durren at Piedmont Community College
Randy Durren (rear) explains to student Sabrina Cardwell (front) how to set up the FTIR program for testing biodiesel
The FTIR is used to check the purity and composition of organic substances and is an excellent tool for checking the purity of biodiesel produced with PCC’s reactor. Through the technical representative from Shimadzu, the manufacturer of PCC’s FTIR, I was able to secure a procedure to check the purity of biodiesel.

The Karl Fisher Titrator is a very specialized piece of analytical equipment that is important in the production of biodiesel fuels. This instrument is used to test for the presence and amount of water found in a substance.

As a member of the Environmental Sector of the North Carolina Curriculum Improvement Project (CIP), I learned about the Greenforce Initiative. This offering is a collaboration of Jobs for the Future and National Wildlife Federation where funding for the grants is provided by The Bank of America Charitable Foundation and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. Through the Greenforce Initiative grant, I received funding for training and travel to attend a training session on using the FTIR and the Karl Fisher Titrator for biofuels applications.

As a result, 16 Biotechnology and Laboratory Technology associate degree students at PCC have received training in this technology. PCC also has offered training to the community, including an upcoming training in October 2012 to be offered through PCC’s BDEC to serve local residents. During this session, I will provide additional information on fermentation of bioethanol as a fuel source, along with the biodiesel, to increase the scope of class content. PCC provides these public offerings as an ongoing community service.

Georgette Ambruso, a PCC student who participated in the training, was complimentary of the opportunity to be trained. “As a student in the Laboratory/Biotechnology program at PCC, I was able to take part in some very special training this semester,” she said.  “Sally Banks from

photo courtesy of Randy Durren at Piedmont Community College
Denzel Williams (left), Randy Durren (center) and Bryant Lofton (right) observe the results from using the Karl Fisher Titration to test biodiesel fuel for the presence of water
Metrohm USA, Inc., came to present information on moisture analysis using the Karl Fischer instrument in our lab. We had a very informative slide show presentation followed by a demonstration on the set-up and use of our instrument. We were able to get beneficial hands on training as we took turns determining water percentage in various liquid products. It was a fun and entertaining day for all of us and quite packed with useful information and helpful tips. I am grateful that Mr. Durren was able to arrange this presentation for us.”

PCC plans to increase rural education and training opportunities related to production of biodiesel and ethanol. Now that I have learned to use both the FTIR and Karl Fisher titrator to test biofuels for content and purity, PCC will offer a “confirmation of purity” source with the assistance of the BDEC, the Continuing Education, and the curriculum (credit) instructional programs. We also plan to continue establishing partnerships and collaborations for the promotion and usage of sustainability, “green” technologies and biofuels from renewable sources. This will contribute to the process of creating new employment opportunities in the area.


As a member of the North Carolina Community College System, Piedmont Community College serves Caswell and Person counties. Its main campus is located in Roxboro, NC, and its branch campus is located in Yanceyville, NC. Randy Durren is the lead instructor in the College’s Biotechnology and Laboratory Technology programs. He was honored to be named the 2011 Biotechnology Instructor of the Year for NCCCS BioNetwork. For more information, visit the College’s website at