Scott Shore was an intern with us last semester. He is off to his next adventure, and we are grateful for his time with us. Here is what he wrote about his time at Piedmont:
For the last three months, I have been an intern at Piedmont Biofuels. Rather than just providing a standard journal with dates, which would be pretty boring, I decided to write more of a reflection upon my time and work.
My story cannot be told without including how it began. I had been finishing my Master’s thesis while looking for a job all summer and was having no luck. Sometime in July, I sent an email to Piedmont Biofuels just asking about getting involved in biodiesel and about the internship. One week before the internship was scheduled to begin, I am on the phone with Lyle who basically says you want it, you got it without so much as an interview or my having visited. I visit and tour that Sunday and decide that evening to take the internship. On Monday I let Lyle know I will be coming down the next day, which is Tuesday when the internship class begins.
Things begin immediately when I get in a truck with Holden, the other intern, and Caleb, who has since moved on. We take a trip to pick up big, white plastic containers we call totes and return them to Piedmont. That afternoon I am touring the place and meeting people and going over general forms and rules for working at Piedmont. That evening began the biodiesel class taught by David, one of Piedmont’s Design/Build guys.
Over the first couple of weeks, most of the jobs I did involved cleaning in some way, shape, or form. I helped move some old totes from the old co-op over to the biofuels plant. I also helped David clean out the inside of some tanks for a biodiesel plant they were building. I didn’t have much of a schedule and hadn’t gotten to know many of the people, so everyday I would walk in and find David and work for him.
On Labor Day though, I managed to get trained for working in the lab by Rachel and spent that week in the lab while at the same time preparing how I wanted to spend my weeks. I tend to work better with a schedule because I know where to go and what to do. I don’t have to wait for someone to tell me or try to find the work, it is already there. I set my schedule to work Monday and Tuesday in the lab. Wednesday I worked for grease collections, and Thursday and Friday I would work for Design/Build.
At first my work in the lab was more cleaning, but quickly I got a project involving using high voltage to separate glycerin from biodiesel. This was research that Greg had previously done, but some more detailed work was needed. Rachel was giving a presentation on it in Germany so that became my project. Working with Greg, we figured out a plan and determined what variables we wanted to test.
During the beginning of my time in the lab, I also worked on fixing various pieces of lab equipment. I fixed a stir plate, helped replace a shaker bath motor, and some pumps which I also calibrated.
The grease collection work ended up being a lot of fun. This mostly consisted of going on grease runs with Moya to collect the waste vegetable oil. These days are long days because it just takes time to fill the truck. But you also get time to talk and if you are lucky you get some free food from the generous restaurants we picked up from. We usually met at 6:30 or 7:00 in the morning, and since I have a habit of being up early, I just began to make the coffee. I went to Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Durham, and Greensboro to collect the grease. Once I figured out what to do and how to work the stinger, everything ran smoothly and we developed a rhythm. Although one day the vac truck key was lost and the spare would not turn the engine, we ended up going to Lowe’s at 7 in the morning and got a new key cut from the spare. It was a long shot solution but it worked. I also spent some time helping to clean the vac truck and collection barrels; I also helped organize both barrels and pallets for grease collection use.
My time working in Design/Build usually involved a lot of cleaning. From the tanks at the beginning of my time at Piedmont to the major shop cleaning towards the end, we cleaned a lot of stuff. I helped clean totes for worm bins and also helped to paint some worm bins. I got to lend a hand to the fabrication crew who were great when I had a question about how to do something. They would give me the right tool or tell me how to use or demonstrate if necessary. By the end of my internship, I learned about using grinders for prepping tanks for painting and how to cut bolts off, although I still don’t like all the sparks. I learned about using the port-a-band and sawzall.
Although production was not on my weekly schedule, I did occasionally help Jeremy or Leif out. Twice I helped to unload an 18 wheeler with a pallet jack, it was pretty tiring. I would also help to load or unload totes. Never anything big, but the help was important. I also became forklift trained and although I didn’t drive the forklifts much, I did use it some.
One of the most important aspects of being at Piedmont is the community that exists between the people. There are a number of different businesses on the campus and a lot of the people live near each other. They see each other regularly and socialize together a lot.
There were some other things I did that deserve some mention include the effort to clean up the old co-op which I occasionally helped with. For a lot of that, Holden deserves tremendous credit. I also got to mentor a senior project on biodiesel, which was fun. I assisted in the biodiesel workshop, so I got to attend the workshop for free and even got the presentations as well. This isn’t too bad considering, I just made sure presenters were there on time, which they were without my intervention.
Early on Lyle gave me a copy of each of his two books which I read. They were interesting and good reads. They helped me to understand the point of the whole campus. While I will still go to the big stores, my sensitivity to local commerce has certainly been elevated and I will make a conscious effort to be less dependent upon the large corporations.
Finally I just want to say how wonderful I found the people to be. I was never given a task that the person who gave it to me wouldn’t jump in and help me do. Within the first couple weeks, I went to lunch with Rick and Spencer one day at the co-op marketplace and Rick buys me a cookie. When white was being prepped for gravel, Lyle was out there in the rain with his son helping to bust up concrete. David helped perform tank cleaning and went so far as to get inside the tank. Moya spent hours on laying on the vac truck shoveling out garbage while I helped. Greg helped with lab dishes and Rachel helped to finish up the presentation.
Piedmont was a great chance to learn, not just about biodiesel but also about community. I often worked extra hours or weekends, but so does everyone else. No one makes you work the extra hours, you just want to because it needs to be done or you want to help the other people.