French-fry grease to liquid gold

VANCOUVER — What was once considered trash has become treasure for B.C. restaurateurs.

Until
recently, vats of old cooking oil had to be hauled away – at a cost.
But the detritus of a million French fries is now liquid gold, with
companies competing to buy the leftover grease to convert it into
biodiesel, an environmentally friendly fuel. Unlike other biofuels,
this biodiesel is not affecting the food chain because it is recycled.

Two years ago, restaurateurs in the Lower Mainland paid a Vancouver
rendering operation, West Coast Reduction, to pick up their waste oil.
Now, with the rising cost of crude oil and the increase in interest in
alternative fuels, restaurants are receiving between 5 cents and 10
cents a litre for their old grease from several small, biodiesel
startup companies. West Coast Reduction has been forced to reassess and
now either picks up for free, or pays for the oil.

"There’s lots of people getting in on it," said Barry Glotman,
president and CEO of West Coast Reduction. "It’s a gold rush right now."

West Coast Reduction doesn’t make biodiesel. It combines the oil it
picks up with rendered animal fats to create a product called Feed Fat,
an ingredient in food for animals. Its fleet of trucks run on biodiesel
and the company is still the leading importer of the fuel to B.C. from
the United States.

"The U.S. gives a $1 per gallon subsidy on biodiesel blends," said
Rob Jones, West Coast Reduction’s director of sales and marketing.
"Right now, it’s cheaper for us to bring it up and distribute it than
to build a plant and process it ourselves."

Mr. Jones said the arrival of small competitors buying up waste
vegetable oil is a concern, as is theft of oil from West Coast
Reduction’s collection drums, some of which are kept outside. Both
trends are connected to the rise in fuel prices.

"Every day the price of oil goes up, someone figures restaurant
grease can be had for free and goes and fills their jerry can from the
back of a fast food outlet," said Mr. Jones, noting that the problem is
much greater in the U.S., due to the higher quantity of fast-food
outlets.

Alex Rotherham, executive chef of Darby’s Pub in Kitsilano, now gets
5 cents a litre for his used oil from local biodiesel producers ERM
BioSource.

"The cost of a litre of fresh vegetable oil is now $2.50 – double
what it cost a year ago," he said. "Any revenue is good. We also like
the fact that it’s food waste, rather than actual food being used."

ERM BioSource recycles 175,000 litres of used vegetable oil a month,
mostly for industrial use. It plans to expand into the consumer market
if it can find enough waste oil. Approved by the Recycling Council of
British Columbia, ERM has initiated a program called the Restaurant
Green Zone, in which restaurants that sell non-hydrogenated waste oil
to ERM are included in marketing materials that advise consumers that
members are not only committed to recycling, but are trans-fat free.

"One hundred per cent of our products are recycled, even our
byproducts" said ERM’s project resource manager, Robert Greene. "There
is no waste – not even water waste."

The old oil is put through a process to remove carbon-emitting
glycerides before alcohol is added. The resulting biodiesel is then
mixed with a percentage of regular petro-diesel – B5 contains 5 per
cent biodiesel, B50 has 50 per cent, etc.

The cost of blended biodiesel typically runs one cent per litre
cheaper than petro-diesel for B5, and up to three-and-a-half cents per
litre cheaper for B50. The cost of biodiesel is connected to the cost
of gas, not simply because of the blend with petro-diesel, but also due
to rising costs of transporting it to the point of sale.

Biodiesel is available at four Lower Mainland Autogas locations –
supplied by West Coast Reduction. On Saturday, vancouverbiodiesel.org –
a local biodiesel co-op – will, in association with Recycling
Alternatives, launch a new downtown pump and will be the only outlet
offering B100.

Recycling Alternatives’ biodiesel manager Jean-Michel Toriel would
not say where the co-op will get the fuel or how much it will cost,
except that it would be "very competitive and the best value
available." The fuel will conform to international standards and be
derived from 100 per cent recycled oil.

Vancouver-based business development executive Paul Kamon replaced
his old car three months ago. He bought a diesel vehicle so he could
switch to biodiesel as part of an ongoing personal environmental
commitment. "It does smell differently," he said. "But it runs great."
The cost is less of an issue for him. "I believe we have to account for
the environment in all our decisions."