“It’s a romantic notion for people travelling across the country to pull up behind a restaurant and fuel their car with free waste grease,” muses Edward Beggs of Neoteric Biofuels Inc., “but I don’t think is practical from a reliability point of view.”
Calling them little more than “dumpster divers,” Beggs, who wrote his Masters’ thesis on the subject of biodiesel feedstocks, says anyone trying to create a business in recycled restaurant frying oil must compete with large-scale production facilities.
Both waste vegetable oil (WVO) and its country cousin — animal fats — can be refined into “yellow grease” and end up as animal feed, shampoo, hand cream, paints, machine lubricants, a water repellant for asphalt, or biodiesel fuel. Though biodiesel has captured environmentalists’ imagination, most yellow grease finds its way into the animal feed (livestock and pets) markets.
“The biggest cost for biodiesel is the feedstock,” says Julian Lothringren, director of operations for Oakville-based GreenDiesel Canada. GreenDiesel collects restaurant oil throughout Southern Ontario and ships the filtered grease to the U.S., India or China. Lothringren keeps a close eye on exchange rates and the commodities market.
At $0.40 per kg, yellow grease is a commodity, traded much like soybeans ($0.75/kg), canola ($0.50/kg), or animal fat ($0.45/kg). Depending on the scale of production, it costs about $0.40 to process each kilogram of vegetable oil into 1.125 litres of biodiesel. Petroleum-based diesel wholesales for around $0.60/litre. Ontario and B.C. are trying to create demand for renewable fuels by eliminating their provincial fuel tax (approximately $0.15/litre) on any blend of biodiesel.
Preferred restaurant grease consists of 40 per cent water, 40 per cent usable oil, and 10 to 20 per cent glycerin (trans-fatty acids). In a process known as transesterification, vegetable oil (with the water removed) is mixed (carefully) with methanol and a small amount of sodium hydroxide to create pure biodiesel (B100) and a glob of brown, poor quality, glycerin. Wastewater and impurities are also byproducts that have to be properly disposed of.
Mike Bryan, president of BBI Biofuels Canada has been involved in the industry for 25 years. “There is a definite market for yellow grease and agriculture feedstocks for biodiesel,” asserts Bryan. “The biggest issue with biodiesel is standards. You’ve got a diverse group of people, from pinstripes to ponytails, all chomping at the bit to get into the market. You can build a small biodiesel plant for $1 million but to be accepted (by auto manufacturers) biodiesel must meet the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM D-6751) specifications.”
From a restaurant owner’s point of view, consistency means having someone reliable pick up the grease on a regular basis. Canada produces 127,000 tonnes of yellow grease each year. McDonald’s Canada, as one example, has over 1300 outlets. The chain works with licensed vendors who, for a monthly fee, haul away a 400 or 800 kg. bin of used frying oil from each of their stores.
There are essentially three major companies and a few smaller boutique players in Canada that pick up waste cooking oil. The industry giant is Rothsay, a subsidiary of Maple Leaf Foods. Last year it processed 15 million pounds of animal fats and WVO in Ontario alone. In late 2005, the company announced the opening of a 35 million litre biodiesel plant in Montreal.
West Coast Reduction Ltd., based in Vancouver, has six plants spread across the Prairies and B.C. exporting the majority of its products to Pacific Rim countries. Montreal-based Sanimal Inc., serves 25,000 customers in Eastern Canada and the Northeast U.S. states. Sanimal owns Animal Byproducts (ABP) Inc. and the recently-acquired Ontario company, Grease Man.
Joe Kosalle, general manager for ABP Recycling notes, “We are constantly trying to find new markets. It’s a finite industry, tightly controlled with very little margin. You can only process what comes in and respond to limited demand.”
ABP refines WVO only to the point of yellow grease. The company has plans for a new plant in Hamilton with a capacity of 1,000 tonnes per week.
“We charge for the service of removing grease,” Kosalle states simply. “It’s like the garbage business. It has to be picked up. If there’s no market one week you can’t just say ‘we won’t be there this week’.”
William Kemp, author of Biodiesel Basics and Beyond voices, “A lot of home brewers say they’re converting restaurant grease into biofuel for environmental reasons when in fact it’s because it’s cheap and they can do it. If it cost $5 a gallon or was as complicated as making ethanol, they wouldn’t. My thought about the meat rendering industry is that they’re trying to get a higher value for their product by looking at the biodiesel market. At the end of the day, recycling any product is good.”
Lawson Hunter is publisher of renewable energy newsletter AREnewsletter.com (http://arenewsletter.com) based in Hamilton, Ontario. Contact Lawson at firstname.lastname@example.org