How Are French Fries and Airplanes Similar?
The same oil that fried your potatoes might have fueled your airplane.
Correctly processed, biofuels made from used cooking oil burn 80% cleaner than fossil fuels. Just add to that the incentive of US subsidies, emission limits and carbon taxes and you have used cooking oil becoming big business.
All you need is a truck to pick up the used oil that restaurants dump in steel bins and to know that chicken produces much better grease than barbecue. Planes on a KLM transatlantic route use cooking oil from Louisiana Cajun restaurants as 25% of their fuel.
I did read also that a new 18,000 square foot biofuel processing plant just opened in Hong Kong. With its tiny carbon footprint, cooking oil biofuel is ideal for “smog addled” Hong Kong’s cars. As one plant representative explained, “…we have the ability to process really difficult wastes ‘such as grease trap oil as well as used cooking oil…’” and, “…When burned, waste oil biodiesel is also generally cleaner for the air than diesel, emitting lower levels of pollutants, including particulate matter.”
Starting as a brown liquid with a strong stale frying odor, used cooking oil looks rather different as biofuel:
You can see the plusses. Previously almost worthless, the used cooking oil would have been thrown into landfills or used to fatten up livestock. Now, it is a growing industry that its advocates say can have a positive environmental and economic impact.
On the other hand it is more expensive than fossil fuel. And, as we have seen with corn for ethanol, higher cooking oil demand could upset other food and commodity prices. One BBC reporter cites the possibility of deforestation from more demand for palm oil. In addition, with government subsidies, the amounts produced might correlate inaccurately with actual demand.
And finally, one unintended consequence: People are now stealing used cooking oil. While law enforcement has yet to become responsive, one Manhattan-based firm, using stake-outs and surveillance (I guess of restaurant back-door used oil bins) says it has been hired to “pursue more than 100 grease cases.”
Sources and resources: An excellent New Yorker Magazine article, “Hot Grease,” (pay wall) was the source of many of my facts but you can access these articles, here, here and here on the spread of biofuels. Finally, more at econlife on how a seemingly worthless byproduct like chicken paws becomes valuable.