Santa Cruz Fryer to Fuel program flourishes

By Anna Austin | January 01, 2009
Web exclusive posted Dec. 31, 2008, at 11:35 a.m. CST

In partnership with the U.S. EPA, the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transportation District, biodiesel producer Energy Alternative Solutions Inc., the California Restaurant Association, waste oil collector Salinas Tallow Co. and the city of Santa Cruz, Calif., have created a locally sustainable biodiesel market.

The EPA's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response sponsors a series of innovative pilots to test new ideas and strategies for environmental and public health protection. The Ecology Action "Fryer to Fuel" program in Santa Cruz has already diverted 60,000 gallons of waste cooking oil grease from landfills, according to the Olof Hansen, U.S. EPA Region 9 representative.

Fryer to Fuel is similar to the SFGreasecycle program currently implemented by the city of San Francisco, but on a much smaller scale. In San Francisco, more than 10 liquid waste haulers collect grease from about 500 restaurants. In Santa Cruz, three licensed haulers collect grease from approximately 30 restaurants.

Salinas Tallow Co. Inc. designed and custom built the containers used in the Fryer to Fuel Program. "They come with an attached, locking, closing lid that are lower and more ergonomically correct," Hansen explained. "The containers have a v-shaped grate to collect solids and are easy to keep locked, preventing theft."

Hansen said Salinas Tallow agreed to make the 184 gallon containers for all of the participating program customers, at the company's cost. "This was a significant contribution to the program, as each bin cost approximately $600," he said.

Depending on the location and size of the restaurant, they are serviced up to every week. Some restaurants which are collocated share a bin, larger restaurants have their own.

After collected the grease from restaurants and food service businesses, it's transported to the collector's central location. The collector delivers the cleaned grease to biodiesel producer Energy Alternative Solutions for conversion into fuel. Energy Alternative Solutions then transports the finished product to the fleet operators at their desired locations.

These types of programs have numerous benefits, including enhanced air and water quality, minimization of waste and the prevention of sewer spills. Eighty percent of sewer spills in the U.S. are caused by fryer oil grease clogging pipes, according to the EPA Office of Water.

"By producing this fuel locally in commercial quantities, it will be substantially cheaper than imported virgin oil-based biodiesel and cost-competitive with petroleum diesel," Hansen said. "This enables public diesel fleet managers to convert to this cleaner fuel without adverse impacts on operations."

Keeping feedstock collection and delivery, as well as biodiesel production and distribution, in the same geographical area maximizes the environmental and economic benefits. The Fryer to Fuel program can be duplicated in midsize cities through the United States, Hansen said.

"We like to use this urban biofuels project and promote it as a model for other communities in the U.S.," he added. "We think this community-based program from feedstock to consumer creates a sustainable cost-effective market for biodiesel from waste cooking oil."
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