Community trap grease biodiesel project seeks additional funding

By Erin Voegele | April 12, 2012

A research team investigating the possibility converting trap grease collected from Cincinnati sewer systems into biodiesel will be presenting the initial results of its project at the U.S. EPA’s 2012 National Sustainable Design Expo April 21-22. The event features a student completion where teams showcase innovative solutions to environmental problems in an effort to win EPA’s P3 Award. According to the EPA, exhibitors are also on hand to showcase their ideas for achieving environmental sustainability.

The trap grease project is led by the University of Cincinnati, in partnership with Bluegrass Biodiesel and the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati (MSD). The aim of the project is to develop a community-scale biodiesel production system that employs trap grease collected from the sewers as feedstock. The team was given a $15,000 P3 Award last August to support Phase I of the project. According to Ming Chai, lab manager at Bluegrass Biodiesel who also serves as co-investigator of Phase I and coordinator for Phase II of the project, the team has already submitted a proposal for funding to support Phase II.

Chai notes that Phase I of the project includes several activities, including a detailed survey of the amount of trap grease that could be collected for conversion into biodiesel. Team members will also explore the effective and economical methods to pretreat trap grease into suitable feedstock for conversion into biodiesel. The award notice published by the EPA at the time of the Phase I award also stated that results of Phase I were expected to include data and information released to the exact composition of trap greases collected, projected biodiesel yields, and the cost associated with converting trap grease into biodiesel. According to Chai, lab-sale production of biodiesel has also been completed as part of Phase I.

The next phase of the project is slated to include pilot-scale demonstrations. Chai said that the goal is to set up a feedstock pretreatment system within the MSD. The feedstock would later be converted into biodiesel via a 100-gallon pilot facility. In the event that the EPA does not elect to award the project funding to support Phase II, Chai said it is possible that Bluegrass Biodiesel and the MSD could explore alternative methods to fund the initiative.

The ultimate goal of the project is to establish a community-scale biodiesel production facility. Chai also said that the team hopes to establish a model for community-based biodiesel production using trap grease, one that could be replicated in other cities or regions.

Bluegrass Biodiesel is also leading two additional unique biodiesel projects. According to Chai, his company is investigating the possibility of extracting oil from tobacco residue for conversion into biodiesel. Bluegrass Biodiesel is also looking at the possibility of extracting oil from spent coffee grounds for use as biodiesel feedstock, and then recycling the remaining grounds into a filtration system used for fuel polishing.

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