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Berea’s student CEOs get $30K for new energy start-ups

Kentucky entrepreneurs Nathan Hall and Curtis Britland – both students at Berea College – each recently received grants of $30,000 from the state’s Kentucky New Energy Ventures (KNEV) program.

Nathan Hall and Curtis Britland

The program's grants and other investments target high-potential start-ups based in Kentucky that develop and commercialize alternative fuel and/or renewable energy technologies.

Nathan Hall, '09, of Floyd County, graduated this December with a degree in Sustainable Agriculture and Industrial Management. He is the founder and CEO of East Kentucky Biodiesel (EKB), LLC. Formed officially in 2008, EKB will be the region’s first producer of sustainable, environmentally friendly biodiesel fuel.

EKB plans to construct an initial 150,000-gallon per year waste vegetable oil-based biodiesel plant in Floyd County that will source waste oil feedstock from the surrounding 150-mile radius. Concurrently, research will begin to assess the viability of growing several different types of oilseed crops on reclaimed surface mine sites.

The end goal will be to produce between 500,000 and 1.5 million gallons of biodiesel per year from locally produced or collected feedstocks and to sell to mainly local and regional markets, with long-term plans to implement this business model in other areas in the central Appalachian coalfields.

With his $30,000 KNEV grant, Hall says he will purchase equipment for initial operations, and invest in future development and commercialization.

Hall plans to begin construction of the plant after leaving Berea in December, when EKB becomes his full-time job. He hopes to have the initial phase completed by March.

At present, there are no biodiesel producers or distributors in the eastern Kentucky region. Many restaurants and cafeterias are still paying to have their refuse cooking oil hauled offsite by out-of-area renderers. There are thousands of idle acres of surface mined land that could be used to grow site-tolerant feedstock crops.

Hall’s enterprise has support from Floyd County officials, who are financing construction of the plant and leasing to him at very favorable terms. Hall says officials are very excited about using biodiesel for their vehicles of various kinds and the county’s school buses.

“I have been intent on developing sustainable forms of economic development within the Appalachian coalfields for several years now,” says Hall.

“The six months I spent as an underground coal miner and a lifetime of witnessing poverty and environmental degradation motivated me to search out those answers which can be most viable in this region. I plan to work on several different projects along these lines throughout my career, but the biodiesel business is an excellent starting point since it is very doable on a small scale and I already have significant experience with these systems.” See BC-Now!'s previous coverage of Hall

Curtis Britland, '10, of Lyon Station, Pa., is founder and CEO of Critical Energy Corporation (CEC). He also is majoring in Computer Information Science with an emphasis in computer graphics. He will graduate in May 2010.

CEC plans to commercialize two products in the next two or three years. The first is a low-cost tracking system that is designed to work in residential, commercial and utility scale photovoltaic systems. The second is a high-efficiency solar receiver unit that is designed for solar energy tower systems. These products provide cost-effective renewable energy solutions that give the individual ownership of their energy production.

Curtis will use part of his $30,000 grant to purchase domestic and international intellectual property rights. The rest of the award will be used to prototype and test the solar tracking system components that he intends to commercialize next year.

“Now more than ever environmental issues are becoming a hot topic as our society recognized the effect of hydrocarbon-based energy consumption on the environment,” says Britland.

“It is exciting to be involved in a venture that is based on doing social and environmental good while having the potential for high growth.”

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