It all started about 9 months ago, we were putting together our plant, and we knew we needed to have a methanol recovery system. We hunted around the ‘net and Biodiesel Magazine to try to find a ready-made solution to our problem. There weren’t any, really. Most solutions are custom built, cost in the six figure range, and come with almost no guarantee. Our only other option we thought was to build a crude column still and chiller system ourselves. It probably would have worked, but we really wanted a professional solution.
Enter RSI, or Recycling Sciences (http://www.recyclingsciences.com), located in Prescott Valley, Arizona. They advertise a unit called the RSI-55BCF, which is specifically designed to remove methanol from biodiesel (and glycerine, according to the owner). The cost? Almost $60,000.00. A great bargain compared to our other outsourced options. The entire unit is skid mounted, and appears to be well constructed from the photos on the website. We discussed the purchase of the unit with the owner (Dick) and his reseller, and explained that we intended to use it for methanol recovery from both our biodiesel and glycerine streams, and that we would like to be able to process in the 10-15 gallon per minute range. We struggled a bit with whether or not Dick’s explanation about it met our specs, as he wasn’t very clear about the abililty of the unit to process continuously (even though it’s billed as such).
We purchased the unit, were required to wire the entire amount upfront, and delivery took approximately 8 weeks.
When the unit arrived, we immediately noticed that there was an auxiliary diesel fired heater (which we didn’t order or even know about), which was damaged in shipping. We reported it to the shipper, and to Dick. We didn’t need the heater anyway, as our biodiesel would be coming into the unit at about 140F. Odd thing is, the RSI-55 is billed as being a portable unit (remember it’s on skids), yet with a diesel fired heater (and a later available optional chiller), which must be tied to a diesel tank and external vent pipe, I hardly see how that could be portable.
It got worse from there. The unit was poorly labeled, the instructions were poor quality, and were filled with innacurate information (the instructions claim the unit is powered by 110VAC, yet the website says it’s 240VAC). The remote control panel was connected with a long run of SJ cord and liquid tight flex. This configuration didn’t meet code, at least in our state, and we had to connect it using a different method than the unit shipped with.
Upon closer inspection on the unit and inside it, we noticed that the unit wasn’t built with all stainless steel parts as we had been told (you can actually kinda see it in the web pictures, but we missed it). It is clearly not biodiesel compatible. There is copper tubing all over the place, and bronze fittings. The valves seats and gaskets are not viton. The inside of the unit has a 1/2″ copper tube with a bunch of little, tiny holes drilled in it where the biodiesel or glycerine would be “sprayed” into the recovery chamber under a vacuum. The problem, in our opinion, is the holes were too small, and would clog when running glycerine through it. Oddly, depending upon when you talk to Dick, the unit is either made to recover methanol from biodiesel, or from glycerine, but not both. I had two different conversations where he said it wasn’t compatible with one or the other, even though I spefically told him we intended to do both when we ordered it.
We decided that we didn’t want to use it. After many painful discussions with Dick about our concerns, which were not relieved by any measure, Dick agreed that he would accept the return of the unit for a 20% restocking fee (!!). Ultimately we agreed, as 80% was better than not getting any money back at all, and we were certain at this point that the unit would not work. (For reference, Pacific Biofuels also purchased one of these units. Theirs didn’t work either, and is sitting boxed up in storage. They laughed when I called them and told them our problem, and wished me luck in dealing with Tricky Dick.)
So then it starts. We return the unit, which Dick claims is damaged (even though we crated it and framed it with 2x6s and the freight company driver stated that there was “no observable damage” on the ticket. He emails me photos of the unit, which appears completely undamaged, and says it’s damaged. He then says pieces are missing (a $65.00 sump pump he said costs $135.00, and two hoses) and won’t repay until we ship back. I instruct him to deduct those amounts and refund the money ($55,000.00 * .80 = $44,000.00 less the misc parts).
Instead, I get a credit memo (good for the purchase of my NEXT RSI unit!) for ~$33,000.00!! So, we’re still in the middle of it, four months later. We have since found a fabricator who is building a methanol recovery system for us. One that is built completely of stainless steel, and that I have seen operating in another biodiesel plant.
So, if you’re building a biodiesel plant and are looking for a methanol recovery system. I highly recommend looking at other options besides Recycling Sciences. According to Dick, he has dozens of these systems operating all over the world. But when I asked for references, he wouldn’t give any. It was only pure coincidence that I just happened to know someone at Pacific Biofuels that I was talking to and found out they had purchased one in the past and had been burned also.