FEATURE-Oil that fries your burger can run your car
12 Mar 2007 18:04:24 GMT
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(This is part of a series on renewable energy)
By Jon Hurdle
PHILADELPHIA, March 12 (Reuters) - After a good meal, how about asking
the head waiter if you can take the waste grease from the kitchen to
fuel your car?
In the search for sustainable and non-polluting alternatives to fossil
fuels, a small band of ecologically minded people are turning to
vegetable oil and recycled restaurant grease to run their cars, trucks
and even home-heating systems.
Entrepreneurs, some backed by public funds, are proving cars can be run
on low-cost materials that are a readily available alternative to
environmentally damaging fossil fuels.
One driver, Scotsman Antony Berretti, is so keen on the technology that
according to his Web site he spent three months driving his
home-converted Fiat van all the way around Europe powered by waste
vegetable oil scrounged from restaurants.
"Fancy driving across Europe for free? Fuel cost zero?" is the
intriguing proposition at http://www.macharsoft.co.uk/rmp/freefuel.html.
In Easthampton, Massachusetts, Greasecar Vegetable Fuel Systems makes
conversion kits for cars to run on vegetable oil. The company has sold
about 3,500 kits during its nine years in business, and says sales have
been doubling annually in the last few years.
The kits are priced between $800 and $2,000 and users typically get used
vegetable oil from local restaurants that are happy to give it away
because they usually have to pay for disposal.
With the increasing popularity of vegetable oil as a motor fuel, a small
industry of conversion kit installers has grown up, and some also supply
the oil for their customers.
With the cost of engine conversion typically offset in a few months,
users can quickly reap the benefits of free fuel. "Beyond that, it's
money in your pocket," said Justin Carven, owner of Greasecar.
Fuel consumption for vegetable oil is similar to diesel, which gets 20
to 30 percent better mileage than gasoline. Emissions are much less
toxic than those from gasoline, and it's carbon neutral because the
carbon dioxide absorbed by the plant from which the oil is derived
offsets CO2 generated when it is used as fuel, Carven said.
In Philadelphia, a small company is finding a use for another restaurant
Philadelphia Fry-O-Diesel converts the foul brown grease from restaurant
sink traps into usable, clean-burning biodiesel fuel for heating and
The project promises to make a modest contribution to reducing carbon
dioxide emissions and U.S. dependence on fossil fuels, highlighted by
President George W. Bush's recent call for a 20 percent cut in gasoline
consumption in the next 10 years.
Fry-O-Diesel and North American Biofuels, based in Long Island, New
York, are believed to be the only U.S. companies making biofuels from
In Philadelphia, the grease is trucked to the plant after being pumped
out of traps that separate it from water in restaurant kitchens.
After 15 months' testing, Fry-O-Diesel says it has proved the concept works.
"We know we meet the standard for biodiesel," said company president
Nadia Adawi, referring to government specifications for the fuel.
However, the company's output hasn't fuelled any trucks or heating
systems yet -- the experimental facility in an old gasket factory was
never intended for commercial production.
That will change, said Adawi, when the company opens a new plant for
which it is currently seeking investors.
The company aims to provide a commercial alternative to petroleum-based
diesel that can be produced and consumed close to the source of the
grease without needing long-distance trucking of fuels, as with some
According to Fry-O-Diesel, biodiesel can be used in most diesel engines
without adaptation -- unlike ethanol which requires a "flex fuel"
gasoline vehicle -- and can be alternated with petroleum diesel. The new
fuel cuts engine wear because it is a better lubricant than regular
diesel, and is biodegradable.
Fry-O-Diesel spent $670,000 to set up the testing plant, $370,000 of
which came from a Pennsylvania state grant to encourage alternative
fuels. Most of the rest came from the Energy Cooperative, a Philadelphia
nonprofit that promotes and distributes renewable fuels.
Despite the zeal of Adawi and her seven mostly part-time colleagues,
restaurant grease is never going to be a major energy source because
there just isn't enough of it, said Steve Bantz, an engineer with the
Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental group in Washington.
If all the estimated 3.8 billion pounds of U.S. restaurant grease
produced annually was used, it would make 495 million gallons of
biodiesel or heating fuel, equivalent to just 1 percent of the country's
diesel consumption, Bantz said, quoting figures from the National
Renewable Energy Laboratory.
While vegetable oil and restaurant grease may never make a big dent in
overall energy needs, the existence of such enterprises underlines the
urgency of the search for alternatives to fossil fuels, said Bantz.
"We have to look under every rock and down every drain for alternative
energy sources," he said.