Faith Applewhite
ES 220 Env. Studies Internship
Amy Molitor
Final Project

Whitman Direct Action


Whitman Direct Action is a group of 8 students working on bringing more biodiesel infrastructure to Central America. We spent the year learning about biodiesel and how to make it and organizing a conference that we will put on in Honduras July 16th – 18th, 2006. In this conference, we will teach local NGOs and campesinos alike how to build and maintain biodiesel processors.

Why is it important?

Biodiesel and is a sustainable fuel created from oil mixed with methanol or ethanol and a catalyst to form a type of diesel fuel which is clean-burning, emitting 70% less CO2 than conventional petrodiesel. In order to slow global warming, we must cut back on CO2 emissions, and biodiesel is one way to do that. It is also valuable to help an economy to become more self-sustainable, as it will no longer rely as heavily on foreign oil.

History of the group:

During the summer between high school and college, Joseph Bornstien (’08) and some friends went to Nicaragua to travel. There they met a local family with whom they quickly became close friends. After returning to the United States, Joseph heard the devastating news that Alix, the father of the family, had died in a fishing accident. Joseph knew it was Alix’s dream to save up enough money to build his family a home, so Joseph took on the task himself. With a lot of hard work and dedication, the group raised enough money to take the trip to Nicaragua on the summer of 2005 and build the family a home. While in Nicaragua, the group realized the amazing impact of the increasing gas prices on the Nicaraguan economy and decided that the project should not end with building the house. The students decided to work on bringing biodiesel, a more sustainable fuel source to Central America. This would not only help the Central American economy to be so dependent on other economies for fuel, but also help reduce carbon dioxide, the main gas contributing to Global Climate Change. The group morphed into Whitman Direct Action and began to tackle the problem.


Our main objective was simple:

• Increase the existing infrastructure of biodiesel in Central America, making it easier for residents to buy or make.

In order to do this, we had a lot of other things we needed to do in three main categories:

• Education -- Before we began to teach others about biodiesel, we had to learn about it ourselves. This took a lot of forms:

• Researching different methods used to make biodiesel, the pros and cons of each, and which we thought would be the most plausible for Central America.
• Attending various conferences and lectures on everything from growing the crops for biodiesel to what to do with the byproducts.
• Gain connections around Walla Walla and help them while they help us
• Build a processor to become familiar with how to do it, what supplies we need, and get used to troubleshooting.

• Organization – We needed to find a venue in Central America where we would be able to teach people about biodiesel. This included a lot of tasks:

• Connecting with an NGO in who was willing to help us and do some leg work during the year before we get there in the summer.
• Organizing and advertising a conference where we can teach a lot of people at once about building processors and processing oil into biodiesel.
• Working out the logistics of the trip, including tickets and where we would stay.

• Fundraising – in order to fund our trip as well as the activities we were doing on campus, we needed money. We did this three main ways:

• School funding – as an ASWC club, we received a small amount of funding for our in campus activities. Regarding out trip, we are still attempting to become funded by the school.
• Grants – we applied for over 15 grants and familiarized ourselves with the grant-writing process.
• Local fundraising – to supplement our grants, we fundraised by selling food and beverages at school events as well as raffle tickets for an iPod.

Summary of accomplishment of goals:

We have actually accomplished or plan on accomplishing each of our goals. I am amazed by the amount of energy and time people have put in and the amount we have completed, especially just as a small group of students.

What we did:

First semester was mainly dedicated to learning about biodiesel and researching different types of processors. We figured out which type we thought would be the best and most realistic for Central America and learned how to make it.

We also spent a lot of time contacting NGOs in Central America trying to find ones who would help us once we got there. We finally connected with Sustainable Harvest, an international NGO focused on sustainability. They agreed not only to help us, but also to host the conference (provide a venue), and advertise for it before we arrive.

We also built our processor and experimented with different trouble-shooting techniques. We have to plan for many different circumstances, as it is very possible that many of the areas we work in won’t have electricity, we may not be able to find various parts like pumps and heaters once we’re there, and we also may not find a welder. We have been trying out various ways of overcoming these obstacles.

We have also been fundraising a lot in the last few months. A grant-writing committee formed with a few members, who applied for more than 15 grants. Some of which we got, some of which we didn’t get, and most of which we are still waiting to hear back from. As an ASWC club, we received some money to for activities we do here on campus. We are still working to try to be financially supported by the school, for our trip to Honduras, but as of right now, are not.

What I did:

• Attend meetings.
• Research various processors, which would work the best for us in Walla Walla and Honduras.
• Learn about how processors work by visiting various home and small operation processors.
• Been involved in networking with farmers in and near Walla Walla and NGO’s who might help us out here in the U.S.
• Researched NGO’s who might be willing to help us once we get to Honduras.
• Act as treasurer, handling accounts, refunds, and finances.
• Worked on the processor, buying parts, putting it together, learning and teaching others about it, and maintaining it.
• Act as liaison between fire investigator Donny Snider and Whitman Direct Action
• Worked on various fundraising campaigns, from selling raffle tickets to barbeques.

This summer:

• On July 1st, WDA will travel to Honduras where we will prepare for the conference and work with local NGOs on biodiesel-related projects.
• On July 16th-18th, we will be hosting a biodiesel conference at Sustainable Harvest in Tegusigalpa, Honduras.
• From July 19th into August, we will be continuing biodiesel education as well as possibly doing other work towards sustainability with other NGOs.

Next year:

Whitman Direct Action does not stop after building one house or hosting one conference. We will continue to undertake a project a year and work towards it. Next year’s project will likely be a continuation of this one but focusing more locally. We will likely work on using the processor we have build to process more biodiesel and see if we can get Whitman vehicle and equipment running on biodiesel as well as other local school busses. We will network more with farmers in the area and use the connections to strengthen Whitman’s and Walla Walla’s biodiesel community.

A future internship?:

I do think that this would be a wonderful internship for future students. Hoping that it continues year after year, WDA is hoping to take on one major project per year. Anyone interested in working with this great group of students should do so and take on whatever responsibilities interest them within the group.