BRCC is offering a new automotive training program focusing on alternative fuels. Students from the class were joined by Kymber Owens and our table-top biodiesel reactor.

I met Matt Rieger during the summer of 2012. We met for tacos at the Grey Eagle and talked about biodiesel mechanics – I wanted more biodiesel automotive technicians in Western NC, and he wanted to train them. Our geeky automotive worlds magically collided. Matt is the head of the Alternative Transportation Technology and Light-Duty Diesel automotive departments at Blue Ridge Community College in Flat Rock. He trains automotive technicians in CNG, propane, hybrid, electric, and diesel vehicle technologies. He is overly qualified to teach biodiesel mechanics, but needed help getting his new biodiesel classes off the ground. I had a professional agenda, as the Outreach Coordinator for Blue Ridge Biofuels. But I was also on a personal mission – to find more biodiesel mechanics that were professionally trained and qualified to work on my own personal vehicle, my pride and joy and the only material possession that I really give two cents about–my 2002 VW Jetta Turbo Diesel.

The pickins were slim for biodiesel mechanics back then. I conducted a field study of diesel mechanics in the Asheville area that summer after having Viton fuel lines installed improperly on my Jetta by a mechanic down the street. I called the top diesel mechanics in the area and asked if they would be willing to let me interview them about their experiences with biodiesel vehicles. Only five mechanics agreed, and to no surprise, none of them had ever received any formal training on biodiesel. I met each one of them in person and spoke to them briefly about my mission. Every single mechanic agreed – that the biodiesel industry in WNC is growing, and we need more technicians who are trained and qualified to work on biodiesel vehicles.

I invited all of the mechanics that I interviewed to a free Biodiesel Automotive Technician Training that Blue Ridge Biofuels hosted in collaboration with the National Biodiesel Board in the fall of 2012. I received great feedback from the mechanics who attended, as well as Matt Rieger. He said my presentation was perfect. It was exactly what he wanted his automotive students to know about biodiesel. Following the training, I began recommending customers left and right to our region’s newly qualified biodiesel mechanics.

BRCC students calculating emissions for biodiesel vehicles.

The geeky automotive magic continued. In the fall of 2013, BRCC began offering the region’s first and only Light-Duty Diesel automotive program. BRCC also announced their plans to offer a new class, entitled “Biofuels for Transportation,” that is scheduled to begin in January 2014. Over the course of the past several months, in collaboration with Matt and a few other colleagues, I have developed the syllabus, curriculum, and textbook for this new biofuels class – North Carolina’s first ever college-level course on biofuels that is specifically designed for automotive technicians. The textbook, a 40-page technical handbook entitled “Biofuels for Transportation: A Biodiesel Handbook for Automotive Technicians,” includes general information on biodiesel, a list of US diesel vehicles from 1980-2013, warranty statements, how to diagnose clogged fuel filters, and more. 

After submitting the finished biofuels course/materials to Blue Ridge Community College, I will continue to appear as a guest instructor and biodiesel advisor for my friend and colleague, Matt Rieger. I also have plans up my sleeve for a part-time internship at Asheville Veedub with my biodiesel mechanic buddy, Jersey Mike. After a year and a half of biodiesel outreach and education, I am finally confident that I have made a positive impact on our region’s automotive industry. 

Kymber Owens with her VW TDI Jetta

We could still use your help furthering our mission for more biodiesel mechanics in WNC. If you or someone you know is interested in BRCC’s biodiesel course for automotive technicians, please email Matt Rieger at for more information or to register for classes. Also, if you or someone you know drives a diesel vehicle, please consider having your vehicle serviced by one of our region’s trained biodiesel mechanics, listed here.

By Kymber Owens, Administrative and Outreach Coordinator at Blue Ridge Biofuels