New fuel cooks up a storm

Waste cooking oil is due to be banned from animal feed and landfill. Beverly La Ferla spoke to Jayne Myatt, director of Environdiesel Ltd, who is converting this by-product into an efficient, non-toxic and low-emission fuel.

The days of using waste cooking oil as a key ingredient in animal feed are numbered. The Europe-wide ban – if everything goes according to plan – will take effect from 1 November 2002, possibly with or without a transitional period of two years. That means 80,000 tonnes of oil slithering around the UK with nowhere to go.

Envirodiesel Ltd was set up two years ago with the express purpose of converting waste cooking oil into biodiesel plus a number of other useful products. Jayne Myatt, director of Envirodiesel, explains, “We realised that at some time in the future there was going to be a ban on waste cooking oils being fed to animals. And with the Landfill Directive meaning that, as liquid waste, it was not going to be able to go to landfill, we were looking at what other ways to get value from it.”

Myatt also says that other industries are becoming aware that a ban is imminent: “Some of the big food producers, retailers and fast food people have begun to acknowledge that they won’t be able to sell their waste oil to animal feed producers in the future. They know a ban is going to happen and they want to find other avenues of disposal that are more sustainable and more environmentally-friendly.”

In addition, some of the retailers Myatt has approached are currently looking into running their fleets on biodiesel, which suggests the possibility of a unique, all-encompassing package. Imagine a scenario where a company’s waste cooking oil is collected, sent for conversion into biodiesel, and then returned to the company for use in their company fleets. The benefits to that company, in both economics and reputation, would be enormous – and it may not be too far in the future.

Pilot plant

Envirodiesel started a pilot plant a year ago after successfully applying for research and development funding from landfill tax credits. They also found a partner in an equipment manufacturer who offered the all-important stainless steel units needed for the plant.

The process uses any waste cooking oils that are used for preparing food – rape seed oil, olive, peanut or sunflower oil. Typical supplies come from the food and drink industry – factories, catering establishments, hotels, supermarket chain stores or retailers that have in-store cafés.

“The oil is firstly cleaned to remove any burnt bits associated with cooking,” Myatt explains, “Then we add methanol and sodium or potassium hydroxide which produces the biodiesel and a by-product called glycerin, both of which can be sold. Also, when the glycerin is cleaned, a heating oil is produced which can be used in boilers or incinerators.”

Climate obligations

Using either the biodiesel or the heating oil, companies can offset their carbon dioxide emissions against their climate change obligations. Myatt explains, “If companies have a requirement to demonstrate that they’re reducing carbon emissions as a company, either in terms of Climate Change Levy obligations, or if they’ve got a corporate environmental agenda to reduce their emissions, they can use the biodiesel or the heating oil because they are both renewable sources of energy with lower carbon emissions than fossil fuels.”

The biodiesel is also lower in particulate emissions, sulphur dioxide emissions, poly-aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), benzene emissions and is completely devoid of that ‘diesely’ smell so often associated with petrol stations. According to Myatt, it has a ‘pleasant, foody smell’ which won’t make heads turn away if it is spilt, unlike fossil diesel. And it’s benign, bio-degradable, less flammable and less toxic too.

Envirodiesel is supplying the biodiesel at 73 pence per litre, cheaper than the current 74.9 pence per litre for diesel at its local petrol station. However, it hopes to up the production process to make the fuel more widely commercially available in the future: “The pilot plant converts 2,000 litres a week into an equivalent amount of biodiesel,” says Myatt, “but we’re looking at building a full scale plant which will produce five million litres of biodiesel per year.”

Myatt is currently working with several companies who may provide additional investment in the plant, which would mean full scale operation by next summer. “We’ve also applied for planning permission for the full scale plant and we’re talking to the Environment Agency about IPPC authorisation,” says Myatt, “We’ve got the building and once the permits are through, it should come together quite quickly

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