Green Foodservice Alliance

Fuel for thought: Biofuel helps reduce greenhouse gases, decreases our dependency on foreign oil and creates local jobs.

Biofuel and the Foodservice Industry

When a restaurant or commercial kitchen fries food such as French fries, calamari, fried chicken or fish, it uses vegetable oils and/or shortenings in the deep fryer. This oil must periodically be drained from the fryer and replaced with fresh oil. The used oil still contains valuable energy content that can easily be recycled into a cleaner burning fuel called biodiesel.

While the rendering industry has been using old fryer oil for more than 40 years, only recently has it begun to be used to make biofuel. Because of this, restaurants have previously had few options for disposal of this oil.

With the increased awareness in recycling and other environmental concerns, however, restaurants now have a new choice in where their spent oil ends up, as well as another method to improve the environmental profile of their operation.

With a population approaching 5 million, the greater Atlanta metro area alone produces roughly 5 million gallons of used fryer oil annually. That’s a lot of potential fuel!

What Biofuel Is and Isn’t and How It Helps the Environment

While almost any oil and grease can in theory be recycled into biodiesel, in most cases it is only the liquid fryer oil from the deep fryer that is practical. Other common greases that are typically not suitable for biodiesel include grill scrapings, lard, tallow, butter and grease-trap waste. Check with your biodiesel recycler for detailed information on what can and can’t be recycled.

Life-cycle analysis indicates that the direct use of spent fryer oil for local biodiesel production puts this oil to it highest environmental use. The typical local biodiesel production model tends to reduce the transportation of not only the used oil, but also of the finished product (in this case biodiesel), reducing the associated air pollution. Locally made (and distributed) biodiesel also displaces the use of petroleum diesel fuel in your community. This reduces diesel emissions in the air you and your customers breathe. The use of a local waste for a local fuel creates green jobs in your community, keeps your fuel dollars here in the U.S. and reduces our dependency on imported oil.

Biofuel vs.Biodiesel

“Biofuel” refers to any fuel that is a derivative of recently harvested biological sources. This term is used to differentiate this type of fuel from those considered fossil fuels, which are derivatives of crude petroleum, natural gas or coal. Biodiesel is a specific type of biofuel that has similar functional properties as diesel fuel and can be used as a replacement for conventional diesel with little or no modification to the diesel equipment. Biodiesel can be derived from any biological fat (lipid) source including used fryer oils. “Ethanol” is another example of a specific biofuel. Derived from starches or sugars, ethanol is a bio-based alcohol often used as a replacement for gasoline.

Biodiesel can be used in any engine equipped with a diesel engine, however many engine manufacturers have placed limitations on how much biodiesel can be used within the limits of their warranty. Biodiesel is often blended with regular diesel to form a “biodiesel blend.” The percent of biodiesel in the blend is indicated by the blend name. For example “B20” indicates a biodiesel blend containing 20% biodiesel, 80% regular diesel. B100 indicates 100% biodiesel and 0% regular diesel. Many engine manufactures specify what allowable blends can be used in their engines without adversely affecting warranty coverage. Check with your engine manufacturer for blend limitations for your engine, as allowable levels may vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. Your local biodiesel producer should also be able to assist you in determining the appropriate blend level for your application.

Tips to Get You Started

To pay or not?

While in the past, restaurants have had to pay to have their oil removed, in some cases this has begun to change. Some restaurants may be able to have the oil removed at no cost, while others may even be paid for the oil. There are many factors that determine the value of a restaurant’s fryer oil, including the amount of oil produced, the quality of the waste oil (i.e. what kind of oil was used in the first place, how long was it used before it was discarded, etc), the physical location of the restaurant (this impacts the hauler’s cost of collection), and market conditions for animal feed and diesel fuel. While this may mean payment for some restaurants, it typically is not a significant revenue stream.

Environmental vs. Monetary Value

When comparing offers for waste oil recycling, keep in mind the value of improving your environmental footprint. Local biodiesel producers are often much smaller companies than rendering companies and may not be in the position to offer as much in direct compensation. However the value of the environmental impact they make on your behalf may be worth far more to you and your customers.

Choosing a Hauler

When considering your options, be careful of ‘green-washing.’ Because haulers are aware of the increased interest of restaurants in recycling oil into biodiesel, many claim they produce biodiesel (or provide oil to someone who does) when in fact they do not. The GFA can help you identify which recyclers do what they claim, and ensure they do so in a way that adheres to the local, state and federal regulations regarding hauling, recycling and producing biodiesel from cooking oil.

  • List of vendors who do not sell to rendering plants.

Closing the Loop

Because biodiesel can be used in diesel engines and diesel-equipped vehicles are usually used to distribute food and restaurant supplies, there are many opportunities to “close the loop” and use biodiesel made from used cooling oil in the trucks that deliver to restaurants. Check with your distributors to see if they are currently using biodiesel in their trucks. When you have the option, try to source from vendors who use locally produced biodiesel. If none of your vendors use biodiesel, encourage them to do so—it’s one more step you can take to reduce your restaurant’s environmental footprint. A growing number of distributors are looking into biodiesel options, and encouragement from you (their customers) may be what causes them to switch.

A great example of “closing-the-loop” can be seen in Emory University’s biodiesel program. All used fryer oils from the university and healthcare campus are recycled into biodiesel locally with the resulting biodiesel used to fuel their “Cliff” bus fleet.

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