Waste to Wealth: The Value Chain of Used Cooking Oil Recycling

A value chain covers the steps it takes to create a finished product. Used cooking oil recycling has several steps to get from oil that’s used to cook foods to the finished biodiesel that powers a car, truck, plane, tractor, train, forklift, etc. If you’re not tapping into the benefits of used cooking oil recycling, you’re missing out. Explore the value chain of used cooking oil recycling to learn why it’s so important.

Collection Is First

Before used cooking oil is recycled, it has to be collected. Restaurants and food service establishments should never pour used cooking oil down the drain. It also shouldn’t go into the trash. Even at home, you should save up your used cooking oil for recycling. If you can’t get to a recycling center, save it up and list it on a community forum. Someone is usually willing to get it and use it for their converted vehicle or heating system.

On a large scale, it’s collected in containers and brought to a recycling facility that collects it. A tanker pumps it from the container into the leak-proof truck. Once the truck has stopped at all of the different restaurants and clients on the list, it goes to a facility for processing.

Transportation Comes Next

Transportation is a serious business as any leak could be detrimental to the environment. Restaurants, especially establishments that offer fried foods, routinely fill an oil container every couple of weeks. Trucks are scheduled with this in mind. 

Once at a pick-up location, the driver connects the hoses from the back of the truck to the cooking oil tanks. Pumps move the oil from the tank into the truck. This requires special skill and precision as you don’t want excess moisture or any extra contaminants to get into the oil that’s being collected.

Hoses must be connected properly to avoid leaks. Once the oil is pumped, the caps on the truck have to be properly sealed so that oil doesn’t leak out when the truck starts moving. This process continues at each stop, and once the truck is full, it goes to a biodiesel refinery.

Processing the Cooking Oil Into Biodiesel Is the Final Step

Once used cooking oil is deposited at a biodiesel refinery, it’s filtered until there are no food scraps left. It has to be as clean as possible before processing begins to convert it to biodiesel.

The filtered used cooking oil is mixed with a catalyst and alcohol at high temperatures. This separates the biodiesel and glycerin. You get about a gallon of biodiesel from 8.5 pounds of recycled cooking oil, so you need a lot. The more people recycle, the more biodiesel is produced.

At the same time, every 100 pounds of biodiesel also leads to 10 pounds of crude glycerin. That glycerin is used in cosmetics, foods, and pharmaceuticals. Some experiments have been performed by feeding chicken the glycerin from converted corn and soybean oil. The chickens had more meat. The same was found when this was done in pigs.

The resulting biodiesel is an alternative to petroleum diesel. One issue remains. Biodiesel becomes thick and gelled when it’s cold outside. Fuel lines clog up in cold weather, so the biodiesel must be mixed with petroleum-based diesel to prevent this. You can get 100% biodiesel (B100), but most people use a mix of 80% petroleum/20% biodiesel (B20). 

Explore the Impact of Used Cooking Oil Recycling

That’s what happens when used cooking oil is recycled, but it’s also important to understand the impact of recycling. Recycling used cooking oil is essential for many reasons.

It Prevents Fatbergs

Within a sewer line, fats, oils, and grease (FOG) combine with toilet paper, menstrual supplies, and items like plastic wrappers and baby wipes. It solidifies and forms clogs that block wastewater from flowing. If you take care to have a grease trap and ensure all used cooking oil is recycled properly, you prevent the formation of fatbergs.

The Used Cooking Oil Industry Creates Jobs

Recycling used cooking oil requires a lot of workers. You need drivers to go from restaurant to restaurant to collect the used cooking oil. You have to have workers in the refineries, and you need administrative staff to schedule collections, answer questions, and handle social media channels. It establishes a large number of jobs.

Cooking oil comes from soybeans, corn, rapeseed, etc., so you have to have farmers to grow the crops. That adds to the work that’s needed.

Used Cooking Oil Reduces Dependency on Fossil Fuels

Used cooking oil helps reduce the dependency on fossil fuels. You’re using diesel from sustainable sources instead of requiring fracking and drilling deep into the earth. Even a 20/80 mix is better than nothing.

You might be surprised by how many modes of transportation use biofuel now. In New Hampshire, the Mount Washington Cog Railway uses biodiesel in seven trains that go up the mountain. In 2021, Denmark’s Molslinjren ferries converted two of their fleet to run on biodiesel. That was one of the first, but several ferry companies around the world are starting to make the switch. Washington State Ferries uses a blended biodiesel, and BC Ferries uses a 5% mix.

There’s also bio-jet fuel that’s a mix, and it powered a United 737 Max 8 flight from Chicago to Washington, D.C. in 2021. That one-way flight produced around 75% less carbon dioxide. The goal is to produce 3 billion gallons by 2030.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Decrease

When you’re fueling your car, truck, tractor, etc. with biodiesel instead of petroleum fuels, greenhouse gas emissions also decrease. It helps protect the earth from pollution that is affecting the ozone layer.

B100 reduces emissions by 74%. If you use a B20 mix, the reduction isn’t as high, but there’s still a decrease of 10% to 20%. In some areas, UltraClean is available. It’s a mix of biodiesel and renewable diesel, and it reduces carbon emissions by as much as 40%.

What Can You Do to Help Out?

Portland, OR, restaurants need to have grease traps installed in their kitchens, and they have to be maintained on schedule. Talk to NW Biofuel to learn how you can get your grease traps serviced at a discount by also recycling your used cooking oil with us. 

We leave you a recycling container and empty it on schedule. If it’s filling up faster than expected, we will come out within 24 hours of your call to alert us. Give NW Biofuel a call or reach us online to schedule grease trap cleaning services and used cooking oil collection to get your discount.

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