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Technology transforms fuel from oil

Duncan McLaren

The used cooking oil recovery industry has come a long way since ‘the man in the white van’ turned up at the restau­rant kitchen door.

Before 2002, used cooking oil was a key animal feed ingredient but, follow­ing a major contamination incident in Belgium, a change in the law banned animal feed use. It was, and is, illegal to pour cooking oil down the drain and so, with no other outlet for it, used cooking oil collectors and refiners had to offer a new solution which prevented this val­uable resource going to waste.

To make collections more efficient and environmentally economic, a few specialist companies such as Olleco began offering a combined service for the delivery of new cooking oil and the collection of used oil. Combining these services not only meant less disturbance for customers but also lower emissions because fewer journeys are needed.

Over the years this collection and delivery service has become more com­prehensive: ordering can be automated for the customer, carbon reporting is available and aspects of legality and compliance are taken care of.

The seemingly simple process of col­lecting used cooking oil from a restau­rant and transporting it to a processing facility has taken years to fine tune and streamline, but innovations continue to improve the resource recovery process.

For example, Olleco’s vehicles are designed to be lightweight but able to carry more, which means a reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Special features have been added to reduce fuel consumption such as air tabs, drop front and rear vortex diffus­ers and aerofoils.

During the past decade, technologies have advanced to enable used cooking oil to be converted into high-quality performance biodiesel. Used oil is the main feedstock for UK biodiesel pro­duction, and is required to meet the Renewable Energy Directive target of 5% biofuel in the mix of fuel sold at garage forecourts (see box). It can also be used in combined heat and power engines to generate electricity and by companies to run their distribution fleets.

Olleco has taken this conversion technology a step further by bringing together an anaerobic digestion (AD) plant and a biodiesel plant, both fed from the waste collected from the same customer base. This exceptionally low-carbon production process allows biodiesel to be produced with world-class GHG savings while offering an opportunity to provide some customers with a closed recycling loop.

The closed loop process is complex in design but simple in concept. The used cooking oil and food waste produced by customers is collected and transferred to a recycling facility in Liverpool. This facility demonstrates significant improvements over similar schemes elsewhere because nowhere else has successfully entwined the processes of AD and biodiesel conversion.

What makes it stand out is that the waste generated from used oil process­ing and biodiesel production is used to feed an AD plant which, in turn, creates the power required to run the conver­sion technology that produces biodiesel from the used oils and fats collected.

Once produced, the biodiesel, which meets the strict EU specification EN 14214, is sold to the fuel majors and can also be used by customers for their own distribution fleets. This means that closed loop customers are able to fuel their vehicles on low-carbon biofuel made from the same oil they fried their chips in! A great example of a successful circular economy model, with the final product saving more than 90% GHG emissions against fossil diesel.

Renewable fuel obligation

The Renewable Transport Fuel Obligations Order requires transport fuel suppliers to ensure that a proportion of the fuel they supply comes from renewable biofuels.

Between April 2015 and April 2016, 1,522 million litres of renewable fuel was supplied, which is 3% of total road and non-road mobile machinery fuel.

Used cooking oil made up 36% of the obligated renewable fuel, with 9% originating from the UK and the rest imported from as far away as China and Peru.

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