Volume 125, Number 33
Fire at All American Biodiesel plant has investigators stumped
BY RICHARD PETERSON
"I want to correct some misinformation that appeared in the Farmers Press last week," said Lee Dirkzwager, principal owner of All American Biodiesel in York, which suffered a fire that started late on Sunday night, August 24.
The building that burned was all wood construction with steel siding and roof and plywood on the interior walls and ceiling. Even though the building was originally constructed in about 1948, all the electrical wiring had been brought up to industrial standards in 2006.
"First, there was no chemical activity at the plant at the time of the fire," Dirkzwager said. "There were no raw materials consumed in the blaze and there was no finished product consumed. No acid burned.
Aside from about 40 gallons of soap emulsion, the only things that burned were plastic, wood and insulation. Copper, aluminum, brass and steel melted." Soap emulsion is a byproduct in the process of making biodiesel.
"The state fire marshal’s office came to investigate but had to leave to investigate another fire in which a fatality occurred. The fire marshal did not leave because of acid vapors in the area," Dirkzwager said.
"The smell came from 1200 pounds of plastic plates which melted in a filter press," he said. The filter press was used to remove ions from the finished biodiesel product.
Because of the design of the plant, only one building was burned in the fire, but that was an expensive building. Most of the expense is contained in the electrical wiring and controls in the building, which were completely destroyed. Dirkzwager said he has $2 million in insurance on the plant and he will be submitting a claim for about $300,000 worth of building and equipment. "I won’t be able to replace all the items lost with that amount of money," he said, "So I’ll be bearing a significant loss."
The fire was apparently reported by a passer-by on nearby US 2 at about 12:10 a.m. August 25. Dirkzwager was at home about three miles south of York when he received a call telling him of the fire. He arrived at the fire at about 1 a.m.
Firemen from the Leeds Fire Department were understandably reluctant to get too close to the burning building. There was a light breeze coming out of the south that blew the smoke almost due north toward the railroad track and the trees beyond.
Dirkzwager determined there was no acid burning in the building and he led the firemen into that area. The blaze was substantially out by 3 a.m.
A representative of the fire marshal’s office arrived about noon that day and spent a couple hours looking at the site before leaving. Dirkzwager said there were only two pieces of equipment working that night, a refrigerated air dryer and a $10,000 low pressure compressor with all kinds of safety features on it. Neither of these pieces of equipment are suspected as causes of the fire, but the final report of the fire marshal is yet to be delivered.
An inspector hired by Dirkzwager’s insurance company also was not able to find a cause. The Benson County Sheriff’s Office is not trained to conduct an investigation of a fire, but at Dirkzwager’s insistence, Sheriff Steve Rohrer agreed to call in the ND Bureau of Criminal Investigation to investigate.
"I want to find out what caused that fire," Dirkzwager said. "We’ve ruled out a lot of possibilities, but nobody so far has been able to pinpoint the cause of the fire. I want a complete investigation."
Arson has not been ruled out. Dirkzwager has been struggling to get the plant going for more than two years. It’s been a frustrating experience. He was sent only part of a system originally purchased from a supplier in Europe and because the supplier was unable to send equipment capable of purifying biodiesel to US standards he had to find another supplier.
A California supplier sent equipment with vital parts missing, broken or defective. Dirkzwager is an engineer, so he was able to figure out what was needed and found the parts himself.
Then the original catalyst used in the formula to produce biodiesel wouldn’t produce biodiesel up to specifications. They lost a lot of time fiddling with that catalyst until a new catalyst was employed.
In October of last year the plant experienced a spill of hydrochloric acid because a supplier provided two nylon fittings for a pipe when the fittings were supposed to be plastic. The acid ate the nylon fittings and dripped onto the floor. The plant is designed to contain all spills so the acid didn’t get out of the spill containment well.
Dirkzwager and his wife, Larisa, a chemist, poured a base (potassium hydroxide) over the acid to neutralize it. The result was water and salt. In retrospect, this spill was a fortunate happening because the Dirkzwagers learned how to deal with acid spills. The Dirkzwagers reported the spill to the state and how they dealt with it. The state was satisfied with the results.
With the new catalyst the Dirkzwagers were notified by Magellan (a testing company) on August 12 that their biodiesel met specifications. Dirkzwager immediately notified his accountant to file form 637 with the Internal Revenue Service.
The federal government is encouraging biodiesel plants to begin production by paying a $1.10 subsidy per gallon of biodiesel produced. This is for the first 15,000,000 gallons. After that the subsidy drops to $1 per gallon. The IRS determines who is eligible for the subsidy. And on August 14 the forms were sent.
The Dirkzwagers were pretty happy about things finally coming together. He’s been using pure biodiesel in his pickup and biodiesel mixes in his tractors to hay and combine wheat.
Then the fire occurred. Late in the afternoon of August 25, they discovered that a plastic container of acid melted from the fire, but the acid remained in place because of the design of the building. The Dirkzwagers again neutralized the acid as they had done before. And they did it again on September 4 when another contained acid leak was discovered.
Two of the big steel tanks in the building contained about 5,000 gallons of biodiesel and most of the insulation burned off them, but the biodiesel did not ignite. Biodiesel does burn, but it’s not flammable like gasoline. Dirkzwager thinks the tanks can be used for biodiesel again.
A representative of the State Health Department gave All American Biodiesel the operating permit to produce biodiesel on the very day of the fire. So what about the future of the plant? Dirkzwager says he has every intention of rebuilding but this time there won’t be any wood or other materials which will burn in the new steel building.
Lee Dirkzwager stands in front of the burned out shell of the building, right, which burned at All American Biodiesel plant in York. The building on the left and the tower in the background were not damaged by the fire, which occurred August 25. Cause of the fire has not yet been determined.
This new sign on the west entrance to Minnewaukan off new US 281 was put in place just prior to the 125th anniversary celebration of the town in July. The fish was carved and donated by Joe Martin. The fishing motif is continued with dock-type pillars for the sign, which is actually a giant Daredevil. Note the three-pronged hook hanging from the right side of the sign. It’s painted in the predominant Dardevil colors of red and white.
Harvey Eagles donate $1,000
The Wells Eagles Aerie 3080 of Harvey recently donated $1,000 to the Benson County Rodeo Assn. (BCRA). The funds were used for expenses at this year’s event. Left to right are Nancy Abrahamson (a representative of the BCRA), Randy Axtman, Doug Schmitz, Andy Axtman, Ron Keller, Walter Streifel, Pete Schall, Brandt Jenner, Roger Loerch, Janine Gigstad (representative of the BCRA) and Blain Mack. The BCRA is in its ninth year of providing rodeo entertainment to the area.
Helpers at Leeds
It’s not unusual to see parents helping out at Leeds School. Here Jan Engstrom and Vicki Dulmage are in the first grade room helping with a T-shirt art project. Left to right are Shelby Follman, Vicki Dulmage, Libby Dulmage, Madi Dulmage and Jan Engstrom.
Elementary students at Leeds School celebrated homecoming week September 8 – 12 by dressing up differently every day. Monday was Pajama Day, Tuesday was Twin Day, Wednesday was Class Theme Day, Thursday was Lady Lions Day and Friday was Raiders Day.
The first graders are shown on Pajama Day. Left to right are Madi Dulmage, Alea Manley, Shelby Follman, Macy Engstrom, Tristan Burtchell, Jarrel McGarvey, Katelyn Bingham, Jacob Pfeifer, Juliana Remeika and Timothy Thayne is in front.
The kindergarten class had no problem being "twins" on Tuesday — especially the Jorgenson boys. They are, from the left, Cody and Caleb, joined by Samara Blegen, Kylee Hansen, Kearyn Nelsen, Blayne Anderson and John Fisher.
On Class Theme Day, kindergarten student Caleb Jorgenson dressed up like someone he wanted to be, fifth grade teacher Matthew Swanson.
Gets big elk
Jason Feldner of Minnewaukan shot this big bull elk with an impressive rack on Friday, Sept. 12 at 7:45 a.m. His hunt started September 8. Feldner drew his once in a lifetime elk tag for North Dakota. Kyle Clifton of Minnewaukan went along to assist with scouting and getting the animal out after the kill. The hunt was held in the National Grasslands near Medora, Belfield and south of Grassy Butte.
Take part in program
Four Minnewaukan elementary fourth grade girls are participating in the Minnewaukan-Leeds Lions Volley Pal program. In this program high school volleyball players write letters to elementary girls who are interested in volleyball and then the girls write back like a pen pal. Three fourth graders and one sixth grader were present at the last M-L Lions volleyball game in Minnewaukan when they played the Wells County Bears on Tuesday, Sept. 9. They are, left to right, Shaylynn Martin, Angela Young, Sydney Every and Shania Longie. Also participating is Whisper Gourd.
A dozen puppies
The Australian Shepherd owned by Rhoda and Leon Pfeifer of rural Minnewaukan had her first litter of puppies the end of July and she had 12 of them. When she was born, she was the only one in the litter. Tucker, the chocolate Lab of Corey and Sarah O’Connell of Minnewaukan, is the father of the puppies. In the photo Rylee Westby, granddaughter of Rhoda and Leon Pfeifer, enjoys the puppies.
The Minnewaukan Student Council planned Homecoming Week activities for the week of September 8-12. Student Council members are Adam LaRoque, Dallas Welch, Kylee Rallo, Joey Robertson, Brittany Omen, Cody Greywater, Dorthia Santos, Brisha Snell, Bred Jensen and Dallas Anderson. Their advisor is Lyndee Heser. Eight inviduals made up the homecoming court: senior class nominees were Jacki Armentrout and Jessy Kraft, junior class nominees were Beth Beecroft and Dallas Welch, sophomore class nominees were Raquel Quinones and Kendall Young Bear and freshman class nominees were Tiffany Ross and Isaac Swiftbird.
Monday was Crazy Day, where any type of crazy outfit or hairstyle could be seen in the school. Tuesday was Class Color Day where the seniors wore white, the juniors red, the sophomores pink, the freshmen black, the eighth graders blue and the seventh graders green. Voting for king and queen was also held. The volleyball team played in Minnewaukan against Wells County. Wednesday was Dress Like your Favorite Teacher Day. Homecoming coronation took place. Crown bearers were first graders Beecroft and Chico Baker. The theme for Thursday was 80’s Day. Students dressed and styled their hair in 1980’s fashion.
Friday was Raider Day, during which students were encouraged to wear Raider gear or red, white and blue clothing. Grades 7-12 participated in a Clash of the Classes in the gym during 7th period. The Clash of the Classes featured events such as Blind Obstacle Course, Balloon Stomp, "Salsi Says" (Simon Says led by Mr. David Salisbury), Human Scavenger Hunt and Musical Chairs. The sophomores won the Clash of the Classes and came away with the most points. The sophomore class was also the rowdiest and won the Spirit Award! The juniors won the class poster contest. The week ended with the North Central Benson Raiders playing the St. John Woodchucks in Leeds at 7 p.m., followed by the homecoming dance.
The Minnewaukan Homecoming Court was composed of, left to right, back row, Kendall Young Bear (son of Kendall Young Bear Sr. and Joyce Young Bear), King Jessy Kraft (son of Allen Kraft and Brenda Chandler), Dallas Welch (son of Dallas Welch Sr. and Terri Welch), and Isaac Swiftbird (grandson of Clifford Littlewind and Georgie LaCroix.). Front row: Raquel Quinones (daughter of Lynn Green), Jacki Armentrout (daughter of Kelly Armentrout), Chico Baker, Shelby Beecroft, Beth Beecroft (daughter of Nicole Beecroft) and Tiffany Ross (daughter of Wade and Tina Ross).
Minnewaukan School 2008 Homecoming king and queen were King Jessy Kraft and Queen Beth Beecroft.
First grade crownbearers were Chico Baker and Shelby Beecroft.
The sophomore class won the 2008 Clash of the Classes. Left to right are Jacob Cline, Mariah Thompson, Cyril Shaw, Brennen Thompson, Cody Greywater, Tori Brown, Brittany Omen, Mandee Neeland, Jennifer Huffman, Amanda Kraft, Chandra Anderson, Mariah Peltier and Dana Jetty.