The Innovation Generation logoThe typical college student isn’t engineering much beyond a beer bong. Daniel Gomez Iniguez isn’t a typical college student.


Gomez, co-founder of the alternative energy technology company Solben based in Monterrey, México, waded into biodiesel research while still in high school, hanging out with like-minded students in an informal biodiesel club.


“As we did more research, we realized there was no Mexican technology for biodiesel production on the market,” says Gomez, who graduated from high school in 2008.


Gomez and his three partners – Guillermo Colunga, Antonio Lopez and Mauricio Pareja – have developed biodiesel production technology designed to be accessible in a developing economy. The previous business model for producing biodiesel – a blend of vegetable oils or animal fats and diesel – relied on large, centralized production plants.


Such big plants, Gomez says, are costly to build and expensive to operate. They also require a fairly high degree of technical expertise.


On the flip side, most homegrown blending systems produce low-quality fuel, Gomez says.


The Solben technology allows for small-scale production of high-quality fuel. The system is modular, so that as demand grows “the plant can grow like Legos,” says Gomez.


The base unit can make about 105 gallons of biodiesel a day. A plant in Tapachula, Mexico, is making about 2,100 gallons of biodiesel a day.


The process is automated.


“The automation makes it possible for people to transform any kind of vegetable or animal oil into biodiesel in the easiest way,” Gomez says. “A software program is operated by a control panel, where users just press ‘start’ and biodiesel would be produced in an automatic way.”


The technology also provides flexibility to the local producers – allowing palm oil to be used one day, used frying oil the next and soybean oil the day after that.


Burning biodiesel instead of petroleum diesel substantially reduces tailpipe emissions of unburned hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, sulfates, particulates and other pollutants, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Using biodiesel reduces greenhouse gas emissions because carbon dioxide released from biodiesel combustion is offset by the carbon dioxide sequestered while growing the soybeans or other feedstock. Biodiesel is nontoxic and causes far less damage than petroleum diesel if spilled or released to the environment. It is safer than petroleum diesel because it is less combustible.


The benefits of the technology extend beyond earth-friendly fuel, Gomez says. Because the plants can be built in remote areas, they can create local jobs, as well as biodiesel.


Solben's sales were more than $1 million in 2010 and about $3 million in 2011, according to Inc. magazine.


Meanwhile, Gomez is scheduled to finish his undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from Tecnologico de Monterrey later this year.


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