Cooking Oil to Biodiesel Programs in NYC

Up until recently the collection of used cooking oil and its refinement into biodiesel was limited to a few quirky folks that retrofitted their cars and trucks for that purpose. But now, used cooking oil is becoming a hot commodity for prospective biodiesel refiners and distributors looking to and create environmentally friendly businesses. As this biofuel is not primarily produced for energy purposes, but is rather a repurposing of something that might have gone to waste, there are little worries about Energy Return On Energy Invested.

I recently saw that the Doe Fund, the folks that run street cleaning services for many business districts in NYC have started a new venture called RWA Resource Recovery to create good "green collar" jobs in the city by collecting used cooking oil and refining it into biodiesel. They seem to be in the process of getting set up after starting to collect used cooking oil in December 2006.

Another operation, Tristate Biodiesel is in full swing and now has biodiesel ready for sale.

Tri-State Biodiesel is proud to be a leader in bringing this great fuel product to New York City, and would like to invite you to join the 600 fleets nation-wide that use Americas cleanest fuel--Biodiesel!

We will have ASTM D6751-03 specification B100 available by the tanker load (6000 Gallons) for $2.50/gal. plus tax. We could also deliver blended product, such as B20 (20% biodiesel 80% petro-diesel) and can do onsite fueling. Biodiesel can be used as heating oil as well as on road fuel. Smaller quantities can be delivered as well, but the delivered price may be higher.

One interesting side note to consider down the road a bit is that New York's new transfat ban that comes into effect next year might cause a decline in cooking oil supply [Auto Blog Green].

healthier, trans fat free oil has a longer frying life (see chart after the jump) and therefore will not be replaced as often. As Katie Hagen writes, the oil's extended fry life is more than twice that of traditional canola oil. This means that restaurants managers who decide to switch will be able to offer less waste oil for homebrewers.

If anyone knows about any others, please send them on to me. It's good to see this becoming more mainstream, which brings the question to getting the word out to businesses with deep fryers and places that use a lot of cooking oil. Like what do McDonald's, KFC, etc do with all their cooking oil waste?

This won't keep 800 million cars and trucks on the road. If the processing uses methanol it is still FF dependent. Filtered and dewatered waste vegetable oil can be mixed with solid feed to fatten cattle so there are competing uses. The day may come when restaurants charge for WVO or use it as a free waste disposal service by mixing in other wastes you don't want to think about.

Another thing to think about is widespread oilseed crop failures. Bugs like diamondback moth are developing resistance to everything. I'm a great fan of diesel (in this case methyl ester) but I think BTL diesel like the Choren process is the way to go. If only it had the help that corn ethanol gets.

Methanol is made from syngas, and it's not much of a stretch to use the glycerine byproduct (and a little bit of the waste oil) to produce all the required syngas.

Maybe not cheap enough at the moment, but that time will come.

The left over glycerine can be used to produce biogase, methane. This is being done in Sweden in reasonable scale.

The same goes for press cake from rapeseed oil production and leftovers from ethanol fermentation that is not needed as cattle feed. The only (so far) large scale ethanol plant in Sweden has been complemented by a biogas plant that uses chaff from the wheat before grinding and sludge after distillation for methane production.

I think biodiesel from waste oil has a great chance to be used for many of the critical municipal services that we need (as opposed to want). Fire, Sanitation, Police and Buses could be run on some mix of biodiesel. A big contract from the city to one of these producers would be a huge incentive to collect this waste and eventually pay higher prices for the waste. Just the gains from an air quality perspective would be worth the upfront investments.

I don't think it will take 800 million cars off fossil fuels, but it's a good start.

A government official within the New York City government got in touch with me about 6 or 8 months ago and asked if I had any suggestions for how they might get involved in alternative energy. I said that the first thing I would do is to make sure that every drop of waste oil in the city is getting converted into biodiesel and not being sent to dumps. I am very pleased to read that this is being done. I think all waste cooking oil in the country should end up as biodiesel. You aren't going to run the country on it, but every little bit helps. And turning a waste product into a fuel kills two birds with one stone.


In your best estimate, as I imagine you have already thought this out, how much could waste products (food waste, sewage, yard debris, agricultural byproducts etc) offset current energy needs? I agree when you say every drop should be captured. On campus here at UNICAMP in Brasil they sort all the recyclables then dump the food and paper trash into the ground. I printed out the methane digester article TOD had a couple days ago and gave it to the engineering department but they were not really enthusiastic.

Still have the footage from the Ethanol plant, just procrastinating on making something professional to go with it.


"how much could waste products (food waste, sewage, yard debris, agricultural byproducts etc) offset current energy needs?"

That's why they're calling them BB's.. and I suspect they will be more highly 'respected BB's' as Our Daddy's ol' BunkerBusters get less and less reliable. As I'd say to Boof's initial remark upthread, anybody who is brewing up BioDiesel these days is likely NOT an advocate of keeping 800 million vehicles running, and that a major (implicit) aspect of their plan includes restructuring to vastly reduce our ICE dependency.

Bob Fiske

But it's tricky, because an unintentional result sometimes is the maintainence of the illusion that alternatives are all we need.

I just noticed we have a high number of Bobs and Robs at TOD. Anyway restructure yes. Solar panels on all roofs manage all wastestreams and when the wind blows catch it. I've been in brasil now for 6 months without a car depending on public transport and bikes. Two cab rides for my sick puppy but other than that a well managed system works. I wait a bit here and there for a bus but I always have a text or two with me. People talk about nonnegotiable lifestyles....1980's lifestyle is different than todays. Sheesh some guy puts a lightbright up in bean town and they lock down several million americans. Do we need 800 million vehicles? maybe yes maybe no. Do we need 800 million FF driven vehicles? No.....

Les' hear it for the Robs! I'm one more. "Strong of heart"--perfect for a peakster!

In your best estimate, as I imagine you have already thought this out, how much could waste products (food waste, sewage, yard debris, agricultural byproducts etc) offset current energy needs?

I did a calculation like this in my thesis. If I recall correctly, I think the gross was enough to replace our current liquid fossil fuel usage. But the net is the problem. The EROEI is currently not good enough. At present, it probably makes the most sense to burn the waste to produce electricity, but that poses problems of its own.

Still have the footage from the Ethanol plant, just procrastinating on making something professional to go with it.

Someone e-mailed me yesterday asking some specific questions about energy usage in sugarcane ethanol plants, and I told them you might be able to get them in touch with someone.

Wait a minute here, Robert you actually say that that the gross of waste products could replace our current liquid fossil fuel usage? Could you confirm this with some solid numbers?

I cannot believe that there is a daily stream of 3180000000 liters of waste fats in the US that could be transformed to biodiesel...

Please explain.

Roger From The Netherlands

Is it possible that they included the fat man behind the steering wheel.

Wait a minute here, Robert you actually say that that the gross of waste products could replace our current liquid fossil fuel usage?

Yes, but that’s all waste streams, not just waste oil. We have tremendous amounts of paper, forestry, and farm wastes that could potentially be turned into fuel. As I said, it is the net that is the problem.

Could you confirm this with some solid numbers?

No, because I am on a very transient Internet connection at the moment. I rarely stay connected for more than 5 minutes, and pages can take 5 minutes to load. Therefore, anything requiring research is problematic at the moment.

I cannot believe that there is a daily stream of 3180000000 liters of waste fats in the US that could be transformed to biodiesel...

Not all waste biomass is waste fat.

You gave them exactly the right advice.

If they ask you again, point them toward Changing World Technology's thermal conversion process (TCP) as a possible way of dealing with their non-recyclable plastic waste stream.

Folks, do not forget about our fellow energy bloggers at Wall Street Journal,

After a nice burst of "energy" (pun intended) I have noticed the traffic has dropped off some there, and we want to show WSJ that folks care enough about this topic to make a blog there worth gives us a chance to preach to more than just the choir on this stuff :-), and maybe even catch the ear of some fo the PTB in the financial community....

Remember, we are only one cubic mile from freedom

There is more of a market for used cooking oil than fuel, a market most posters here seem unaware of, though as we localize, it will likely return in importance.

'Valley Proteins renders slaughterhouse and other meat processing byproducts to produce protein meal and fat for use as poultry and hog feed.' - from!OpenDocument

The company keeps a low profile, it seems, though its trucks use to make regular collection runs in Fairfax throughout the entire time I lived there. They are based in Winchester, VA essentially, though they now seem to have operations in 10 states -

'The discarded animals are trucked to a facility like Valley Protein's rendering plant located on 500 rural acres outside Winchester. The remote site is deliberate: rendering 2,000 tons of product there each week gives off an odor that makes rendering operations unwelcome neighbors, even in farming communities used to strange smells.

During rendering, hides are stripped off the animals and kept for leather production and the animal parts are cut up and boiled down in huge vats for recycling into fats and a reddish-brown protein that has the consistency of wet sand.

Lester Crawford, administrator of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and a veterinarian, admits he never knew how much cattle parts are used in other industries until he weighed regulations that would further control their use.

Fats produced by the rendering industry are used to make diesel fuel, fabric softeners, perfumes, cosmetics, textiles, plastic, inks, cleaners, solvents and rubber compounds for tires. The proteins from rendering plants once served as a fertilizer, but American farmers today favor cheaper artificial fertilizers.

The protein parts are mixed with corn or soybean meal and used to make animal feed. After British veterinarians linked the spread of mad cow disease in England to the presence of cattle parts in feed, the FDA in 1996 ordered an end to the practice of feeding cattle parts back to cattle, but did not prohibit their use in other animal feeds.

All of the proteins Valley Proteins produces are labeled as unfit for cattle feed because Smith said there's no way he can guarantee the proteins his plant produces are free of cattle products. The proteins are largely used to make feed for East Coast poultry and turkey farmers.'

In my somewhat hazy recollection, they used to take away used oil - possibly tallow, in the sense of being beef fat.

'Valley Proteins, Inc. is one of the largest independent recyclers and renderers of food processing by-products in the U.S. and operates its fleet of collection vehicles on a B-20 blend of bio-diesel. Valley Proteins is also considering entering the bio-diesel production market, having received permits for plant construction.'

I'm not entirely sure how much used oil will be making it into large cities when the agricultural system needed to produce food will likely be running off the same waste stream, so to speak - 50 years ago, it wasn't waste. And notice some of the other uses - until mad cow (feeding cattle other cattle only banned in 1996 in the U.S. - unbelievable) caused people to really pay attention to where all the dead cattle were going - who would have been able or interested in creating such a list? (Anyone paying attention to BSE reactions in Germany would have read lots of discussions about such things, including an Indian Hindu appeal to send all dying cows to them, and the best way to get energy from burning thousands of ton of cattle fuel. The cow rescue plan is the sort of the thing that strains credulity while being at least provoking in terms of how other people view the same circumstances, while Germany is pretty clear sighted in terms of its industries - a cows to kilowatts calculation is pretty easy.)

The used animal products industry is pretty hidden, actually - in the past, I believe, at least some of that 'inedible' oil was processed for feeding to poultry and pigs - but to talk about biodiesel without taking such into account is not entirely realistic. For example, in the past, Valley Proteins was a fertilizer producer, before synthetic products became cheaper to use - however, I'm pretty sure that Valley Proteins is capable of resuming production in at most the middle term.

I do realize things have changed over the last 20 years - for example, beef fat is no longer used by such chains as McDonald's for fries, and mad cow disease at least theoretically ended a major use of protein feed - and to the extent this discussion concerns animal products, we are only talking about a portion of the used cooking oil market, but the question of food/fuel will also arise here.

There may be a lot less used cooking oil in NYC's future - I'd focus on the subway, though a certain amount of diesel for emergency vehicles is certainly necessary to have on hand.

You are right, that some of it is being used, but I did a municipal solid waste analysis as part of my graduate thesis, and there was a pretty decent amount of waste vegetable oil in the dumps. Also, the current uses for it are typically not as optimal as turning it into fuel. That waste oil is very energy dense, so it is a very good candidate for making fuel.

My knowledge of the U.S today is dated - the number of places that use frying oil is undoubtedly much, much higher than 1988, while the use of beef fat in such places has likely declined by a very significant percent.

One reason Valley Proteins collected such used oil was the large poultry industry in the region, both the turkey producers in Rockingham County, VA, and the chicken industry in Maryland and on the Delmarva Penisula - the protein shuttles back and forth, so to speak - animals feed on the 'leftovers,' then in turn, when they become leftovers, they are fed to the next generation. Since DC still had (has?) something of a regional meat industry, it was a profitable cycle for all concerned.

What is interesting is recognizing the limits to this cycle - though fossil fuels can be at least theoretically eliminated from the entire chain, the amounts produced within the entire chain are very dependent on fossil fuels. If 20% of the available biomass can be converted to fuel required to supply the system for example, then the math may may seem reasonable, until you cut the total amount available for conversion by something reasonable, say 33% due to any number of conditions, from climate change to economic dislocation. At that point, you have roughly half of what exists today in terms of actual material - a BB, but a pretty small one, and then, only in the sense of doing things in a more constrained manner, which isn't growth, though it may be acceptable to the alternatives.

The feedstock, so to speak, will be contracting as yields in fields decrease, as food is diverted from animals for human consumption as either fuel for the machines or fuel for humans - and yes, I am certain there are people who know how to calculate such numbers, and have done so - a few are considered doomers, others are just planners looking at different scenarios.

In no sense do I wish to disparage such efforts, it is just merely that the likely end result will be much less than currently anticipated - some of the changes coming to the U.S. will include some no longer possible to avoid decisions - what is America's current lifestyle worth? A lot of interests will conflict, and the wisdom which seems to have been missing since the early 1980s will be in sore need.

But in terms of NYC, there was an interesting idea floating around Germany in the mid-1990s (may have heard it best presented on the radio - the Karlsruhe Forschungszentrum has a weekly program on a local non-commercial station, where a lot of research is discussed).

At that point, Germany's mandatory recycling laws had taken effect, and the country was literally (litterally?) drowning in used paper - the price per ton sank to negative levels, basically, as you had to pay to haul it away (this also had the effect of destroying a generations old trade in France of collecting old paper). At that point, one researcher seriously suggested simply burning the paper instead of recycling it. His points were interesting - since many German cities already have incinerators that produce electricity, there was no need for additional infrastructure, the paper was essentially a CO2 neutral fuel, the truck exhaust and fuel use in shuffling paper around was not trivial, plus at that time, paper processing required some fairly nasty chemicals (also changed over the past years here - a number of problems require a number of solutions, and there may be more than one solution to any given within a set of interlocking boundaries - the complexity argument is not wrong, it is merely that standing around for a generation is not exactly the same as noting increasing complexity is a trap - learn and adapt are what living organisms do, if they wish to remain alive into the future.)

As can be imagined, the idea of burning all the waste paper which flows like the tide into a German city was just a touch too radical to be accepted - burning it seems like such a wasteful thing, but his numbers were quite well worked, and quite convincing - it would be possible to actually generate a decent percentage of electrical power using biofuels, so to speak, without any extreme changes to anybody's current lifestyle (the streetcars and intercity rail network are electric, after all) while in addition reducing the amount of exhaust created and fuel burned in used paper transport - the incinerators are generally much cleaner than a 12 year old diesel truck.

Sometimes, truly ecological thinking doesn't really match up with the image of green living which many people have. Of course, growth would not really be possible with the paper as fuel idea - living within limits is likely another reason it was not so readily accepted, after all.

Any bio-solution will have this feature - and then we see how much smarter we are than yeast.

Interesting overview, and points to exactly how woven together industry/agriculture/energy really is.

I personally don't like the term "waste" but instead prefer to think in terms of
"byproduct", in that we should be looking for ways to assure no waste and instead roll the by product back into the production chain.....a "closed loop" or "life cycle use" or "leaning out", whatever phrase you want to use...

Now, for those who will howl that this won't fuel 800 million SUV's, well of course it won't. But as R.R. pointed up page, we are looking for the ways in which we can make a difference at the margins, and the idea of diversity of stream is not a bad one, making it harder for a shortage in one type of fuel to shut the whole system down.

We should also keep in mind diversity of use. Bio-Diesel can be used in more than vehicles, as can methane recaptured from landfill and sewer gas....

By theway, the new issue of distributed energy is out,

What we are seeing is the diversification and distribution of fuel/energy supply and consuption, something that came to every other industry a quarter century or more ago, but which the energy industry still fights to keep away as though it is some kind of radical program. But time and events have caught up with that industry. They must now change and survive, or run the risk of not surviving, and dragging the whole country down with them.

Roger Conner
Remember, we are only one cubic mile from freedom

Roger, I like how you think. And thanks for the link to DE!

I agree on Byproduct vs Waste but when "rolling" the byproduct into a closed loop Ethics (read The Jungle about how they made sausages back in the day) and Science (EROEI, also think of the mistakes we've made with animal feeds propagating Prion Diseases) need to be in the decision process.