Cleaner Air and Reduced Emissions: The Role of Cooking Oil in Biofuel

In 2022, 457 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions were caused by the use of diesel fuel. While this was superior to the 1.019 million metric tons released by gasoline, it’s still a lot of unnecessary carbon dioxide production.

Since the 1950s, carbon dioxide emissions have quickly grown to alarming rates. In 1950, global emissions rates were around 5.83 billion metric tons, but by 2021, global rates topped 35.34 billion metric tons. While not as drastic, the carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have also climbed from 311.7 parts per million in 1950 to 413.6 parts per million in 2021.

These emissions cause acid rain and produce ground-level ozone that damages trees, growing crops, and other vegetation. As acid rain reaches lakes, rivers, and the ocean it can harm fish and wildlife as carbon dioxide forms bicarbonate in water, which changes the water’s pH and begins to make it more acidic. 

Another problem is that carbon dioxide absorbs infrared light, increasing greenhouse gases. Why is this a problem, greenhouse gases make the planet warmer. It’s why you see areas experiencing much hotter summers, warmer winters, and issues like melting ice caps and rising sea levels.

Newer engines are better at reducing the number of particulates that are released and the increased use of Ultra-Low Sulfur Diesel also helps. But, cleaner air and water are still a goal we should all consider. Electric vehicles are one of the changes, but another involves recycling used cooking oil. 

The Role of Cooking Oil in Biofuel

Back in 2017, the EPA reported that 3 billion gallons of used cooking oil were generated by hotels and restaurants. In some areas, grease traps are required in restaurants and kitchens in schools, campuses, and food production companies. Not every state requires this, but it’s changing. By trapping fats, oils, and grease, it keeps them out of sewer lines and pipes that create costly blockages. 

Along with the capture of FOG, restaurants and other kitchens are saving their used cooking oil and recycling it. This is a growing trend and a key player in the production of biofuel.

Used cooking oil turns into biodiesel through a process called transesterification. The resulting products are glycerin and biodiesel. It’s a multi-stage process.

  • Used cooking oil is collected and filtered to remove any impurities like batter scraps and burnt food particles.
  • The filtered used cooking oil is mixed with an alcohol like methanol or ethanol with a catalyst like sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide. 
  • Along the way, heat and vacuum are used to help with the separation process, and a water wash is needed for the extraction process. That water is removed through heat and vacuum processes.
  • The mixture and process breaks down the used cooking oil to remove water and separate the biodiesel and glycerin.

If you take 100 pounds of used cooking oil, add around 20 pounds of alcohol, and 1 pound of your chosen catalyst, you end up with 10 pounds of glycerin and 100 pounds of biodiesel. You’re getting a lot of fuel from that conversion process.

Glycerin is just as useful for making cosmetic products and in the pharmaceutical industry. You find glycerin in skin serums, hand creams, and lip balm. It’s a humectant that helps absorb and retain water in the skin, which makes it ideal for easing dry, cracked, or chapped skin.

You’ll also find glycerin in the food industry as it helps keep sugar from crystallizing in candy. It adds sweetness to items like coffee creamer and keeps items like frosting from drying out. You might spot it as an ingredient in chewy granola bars or packaged cookies.

The Pros and Cons of Biodiesel

By itself, the biodiesel is usable without mixing it with petroleum-based diesel (diesel for short), but only if your diesel engine is modified with rubber gaskets and hoses that can handle biodiesel. On its own, it degrades rubber faster than diesel.

The other issue with biodiesel is that it will gel at cooler temperatures. In northern regions, the biodiesel will solidify, which makes it useless. To prevent problems, most companies mix biodiesel with diesel to ensure it withstands freezing temperatures. The nation’s common blends are:

  • B5 Diesel – 5% biodiesel and 95% diesel
  • B20 Diesel – 6% to 20% biodiesel and 80% to 94% diesel
  • B100 Diesel – Pure 100% biodiesel

Once you have the biodiesel that’s either mixed or left in the pure form, it has to be transported to the holding tanks where it can go to fueling stations. With the processing steps and times and the transportation costs, the price of biodiesel is higher than gasoline. That does make it a harder sell to consumers.

But, the prices are coming down and recycled cooking oil is helping drive those prices down. With more oil being recycled, the demand for the crops that are needed to produce cooking oil is also less, which helps the environment by lowering the amount of water needed to grow corn and other crops that produce vegetable oil.

How Do You Recycle Used Cooking Oil?

When you empty a fryer or grease-filled pan, don’t pour it down the drain. Instead, save it in a container or bucket. When that container or bucket is full, have it picked up or bring it to a facility that recycles used cooking oil.

Many kitchens work with a cooking oil collection company. If that’s the case, you’re given a large container that’s located in a convenient location for the company to arrive, pump out the used cooking oil, and leave you with the empty container that’s ready to be refilled. If the container is outside in your alley or side yard, it makes it easy for the company to pick up the oil when the restaurant is closed. 

You might prefer to have a grease collection container in your storeroom. If that’s the case, you will need to make sure the company can get into the storeroom on the scheduled day and time. Look into discounts on grease trap cleanings and used cooking oil collection that are extended when you provide the company with a key or the access code for after-hours collection.

Pair Grease Trap Cleanings With Free Cooking Oil Collection

While consumers can save their used cooking oil and bring it to a local recycling facility that accepts it, restaurant owners and food kitchens at schools and campuses have an easier way. NW Biofuel is an Oregon and Washington Preferred Pumper Program member that offers oil and grease collection. Bundle a grease trap cleaning with used cooking oil collection and save more on the already low prices. 

At NW Biofuel, you will get exceptional service at the lowest price in the area. If you’re not happy, you don’t pay. It’s that easy. We pride ourselves in quality grease trap cleaning and repair services and put our customers first. When we collect your used cooking oil and grease it’s recycled locally into biodiesel. We work with local biodiesel facilities to support the community.

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