Some companies see gold at bottom of deep fryers

NANAIMO — Bubbling vats of restaurant cooking oil hold more than
bits of yesterday’s fried fish special — some companies see gold at
the bottom of those deep fryers and they’re scrambling to get it.

Used
vegetable oil — a product used in the production of some biodiesels —
is becoming a hot commodity as soaring fuel prices pique corporate
interest in the stuff. Restaurants won’t make big profits by selling it
off at the moment, but with only a limited quantity available one
biofuels expert said demand for that crunchy, old oil could rise
quickly.

Dean Gaudry, owner of Windward Pub in Nanaimo, recently
had offers from two companies vying to purchase his old cooking oil: A
Vancouver-based company and Nanaimo’s Island Processing.

Gaudry Decided to Go Local.

Although the money isn’t big — he
gets just five cents a litre for the stuff, which works out to about
$200 a year — in the past, some restaurants had to pay recycling
companies to take the waste away. But those days are long gone.

Gaudry
used to give his used oil to a local biodiesel co-op, which uses the
stuff to power their own modified diesel cars, but that group now has
all the oil they can use.

Nanaimo’s Thirsty Camel Cafe received a
similar offer to sell off its old oil, said owner Ilan Goldenblatt, who
is also part of the local co-op.

Karel Roessingh, with
Victoria-based Island Biodiesel Co-op, said over the last few months
he’s noticed more companies vying for restaurants’ used veggie oil in
that city, which could make it tougher for the co-op to secure a supply.

"Just
in the last few months, we have been seeing that kind of activity.
We’re going to have to make more of a concerted effort as a co-op to
campaign and get more oil. There is already more competition," said
Roessingh. "Certainly, it’s going to be more valuable when people
realize it’s perfectly good fuel."

This could be just the beginning, said Warren Mabee, a forest products biotechnology professor at the University of B.C.

He
points out that there is a limited supply of used vegetable oil and in
the not-too-distant future it could fetch far more than just a few
pennies a litre.

He hopes restaurants consider that when signing any long-term contracts for their veggie oil with companies.

"If someone’s offering a good deal today, it might not be a good deal tomorrow," said Mabee.

Policies
announced last month by the federal government encouraging biofuel
production might have some influence on companies wanting to get their
hands on used oil, he said, but points out that biofuel from veggie oil
certainly won’t meet all of our transportation needs because of its
limited quantity.

Despite the recent hype, working with recycled
vegetable oil isn’t new, said Doug Davidson, production manager at
Island Processing which collects used vegetable oil from hundreds of
Vancouver Island restaurants.

"A lot of people see it as a brand
new industry, and it’s not new," he said, adding that the company, a
division of West Coast Reduction, has been recycling veggie oil for 50
years.

Their product is used as an ingredient in animal feed and in the production of biodiesel.

He’s also noticed more interest in veggie oil as fuel prices rise.

"Right
now we have less market share than we did 10 years ago because there
are more people getting into it," he said, while pointing out that so
far no one in Western Canada is making certified biofuel, although
there are small co-ops and distributors of the product.