Biodiesel: Grease Up Your Engines

CrissCrossCircus Drea’s post on McDonald’s grease powering Manila’s police cars reminded me how fascinated I am with the subject of used grease as biofuel. I’m not the only one. This business seems to be taking off all over.

Bring on the Brown Grease

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission is building a grease-to-biodiesel production facility, that will try to create biodiesel from so called brown grease, which is pan scrapings and washed oil residue from grease traps and restaurant sinks. (Fryer oil is known in the biz as yellow grease.)

The brown grease biodiesel is processed into three different grades:

  • High-grade biodiesel for vehicles
  • Lower grade biofuel for running sewage treatment plant diesel plant turbines and pumps
  • Rich energy for cogeneration to capture methane gas from sewage and convert it for heating and electrical needs

Fortune 500 Goes Green

In 2007, Tyson was working with ConocoPhillips to produce and sell biodiesel made from chicken and pork fat at the slaughterhouse level. At that time ConocoPhillips was expected to invest $100 million in Tyson’s renewable-energy division, which was thought to potentially result in 175 million gallons of biodiesel a year. The fact that Tyson is working on other joint ventures as well could be good news for the environment and the bottom line.

Southern fast food company Chick-fil-A has been giving its used cooking grease to mechanical engineering students at the University of Central Florida where they turn it into biodiesel fuel to power cars, trucks, and lawnmowers.

At a production cost of about 80 cents a gallon, the fry-based biodiesel is helping both the students and the university save cash … considering the current cost of petro-diesel at the pump is about $4.419 per gallon. And because the biodiesel burns more cleanly than fossil fuels, the fast-food fry grease is helping the students and school reduce their carbon footprint.

Bad News For Home Brewers

Until recently, a small sub-culture of ultra-dedicated conservationists could count on free grease to haul off and transform into their own homemade biofuel. Now the once free resource has been incorporated into full-on capitalism

As more customers seek alternatives to petroleum-based fuels, biodiesel production has grown from the grassroots to become a multimillion dollar industry. A combination of government subsidies, tax incentives and high oil prices have increased demand for ethanol and biodiesel, which can also be made from animal fat.

Enter the Criminals

You know it’s an industry when people start to steal your product. All over the country, thieves are trafficking in grease.

Grease is a traded commodity like gold or pork bellies, and its price has tripled in the past two years – leading to increased theft. The reason: Grease can be used to make bio-diesel and has seen the same price spike as corn and other biofuel inputs.

When grease was much cheaper, restaurants here and around the country would often have to pay to have the grease removed from outdoor bins. Now that yellow grease fetches a good price, Rosenzweig doesn’t charge his clients – some services even pay the restaurant. There’s strong competition for contracts.

Grease based biodiesel: here to stay or green gimmick?

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