Recycling used cooking oil into biodiesel

Posted on March 1, 2011. Filed under: Energy, Waste |

-The Star-

Housewives, students and restaurateurs are saving up their used cooking oil – for a good reason.

INSTEAD of pouring fryer oil down the sink like she used to, Sheila Varghese now dutifully tips the stale fats into an old water bottle. And once that is full, she heads to the central rubbish disposal shed at her condo in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, and empties it into a huge drum. This has become a common practice among the residents of Armanee Terrace. The grease collection drive is a green move among the condo residents and management to recycle used cooking oil into biodiesel.

“If we don’t do this, all the oil ends up in pipes and grease traps,” says Varghese. “Not all the oil is removed, so the grease still goes into the sewerage system. This makes water treatment to remove the oil more difficult. So the oil eventually ends up in our water supply and comes back to us. If all of us prevent oil from entering drains and rivers, then we’ll be helping ourselves and reducing the maintenance cost of our condos’ grease traps.”

Oil for recycling: After all that cooking, instead of pouring the used oil down the drain – which will cause pollution and kill aquatic life – why not contribute it for recycling into biodiesel?

Hers is one of several condo projects in the Klang Valley that is giving used oils to Fathopes Energy, a company which processes the grease into biodiesel.

“This scheme has good intentions, that is why I’m participating. Turning the oil into biodiesel is better as the used oil will then not be recycled into cooking oil again. Highrise dwellers should do this, as the collection will be easier compared with (dispersed) landed properties,” says Varghese.

Waste oils from residences have so far been ignored by used oil collectors who source for the grease only from major generators such as restaurants. The gap is now filled by Fathopes Energy, which collects fryer oil from highrise condominiums, hospitals, eateries and one school, all within the Klang Valley.

The endeavour recycles a troublesome waste that too often ends up in sewers, and transforms a waste into green fuel. Biodiesel emits 70% less carbon dioxide than conventional diesel, according to Fathopes managing director, Vinesh Sinha. Turning used oil into biodiesel, he adds, also prevents it from being recycled into new cooking oil, a product that poses health risks because of the chemicals used to bleach and process the waste oil.

Dripping with oil: Our love for fried foods leaves us with plenty of waste oil – fats that can be turned into biodiesel.

The monthly production of 40 tonnes of biodiesel at his plant in Jalan 227, Petaling Jaya, is taken up by a tour agency in Penang (to run its buses), a developer (for its construction vehicles and machinery) and a fast food factory (for machinery and vehicles).

Fathopes collects about 1.3 tonnes of used oil each week from Armanee Terrace. Since the collection of used oil started last August, there has been less build-up of sludge in grease traps.

For resident Sujata Narendra, clogged pipes is a thing of the past since she started giving away waste oil for recycling. “I always had clogged pipes as my maid has this habit of dumping oils down the sink. I no longer have that problem. When I heard about the project, I wanted to take part. We’re reusing something that is going to be thrown anyway and making better use of waste oil.”

The oil collection drive proved so popular that it was introduced in a neighbouring condominium, Perdana View Boutique, late last year.

“If we don’t give the oil away, we’ll just pour it into the sink and it goes into the grease trap,” says resident Joy Kumar.

Waste not: These Form 2 students of SMK Subang Utama, Selangor, are measuring used cooking oil brought in by their schoolmates. The oil will be sold to Fathopes Energy to be converted into biodiesel.

He says some building owners, to avoid the high cost of cleaning grease traps, create outlets that lead directly into drains. And some, after emptying the grease trap, just chuck the sludge into drains.

“We leave the bottles of used oil outside our apartments, and the cleaners take them down to the central rubbish depository.”

As the scheme is still fairly new, only about one-fifth of the over 500 condo owners or tenants is taking part. Kumar is hopeful that the number will grow once other residents are aware of the pollution posed by careless disposal of grease.

Young greenies

At one school, SMK Subang Utama in Subang Jaya, Selangor, the used oil recycling scheme is a pet project of a group of Form 2 students. To encourage students’ support, a competition is held; a prize awaits the class that brings in the most used oil.

“The amounts are recorded and the labelled containers are returned to the students to be reused for the next round of collection,” says student Sunny Foo.

Think twice: Recycled cooking oil – made from filtered and chemically bleached used oil – is sold cheaply but might pose health risks.

Some 80 litres have been brought in so far and will soon be sold to Fathopes Energy. At the canteen, posters and banners – made by the students – describe the health risks of consuming stale oil and pollution caused by wanton dumping.

Chadric Yeo has contributed 500ml of used oil to the school so far. “What’s the point of throwing the oil away? If we do that, marine life will be affected. One litre of cooking oil can contaminate one million litres of clean drinking water. And cooking oil, after being used three times, can cause heart diseases and cancer,” he says, sharing information which he had gleaned from the Internet.

Darshan Poopalan chips in: “Oil can clog drains and if poured into rivers, can cover the water surface and prevent oxygen from getting in, so killing aquatic life.” The 14-year-old says he once observed a kuih seller at SS19, Subang Jaya, emptying a huge wok of oil into a drain. “If six or seven people do this, the drain will be clogged and the water will pollute rivers. Imagine how many fish will die because of this.”

Ashwathy Balakrishnan says her mother was initially not keen on her taking used cooking oil to school for fear that it would be messy. “But I explained to her, not only are we getting money for the school fund (Fathopes pays them 70 sen per litre), we’re also saving the environment. It is very easy to protect the Earth. What is needed are small actions by many people,” she says.

Although they initiated the oil collection as part of a green project competition which they are participating in, the students are eager to make it a permanent – and bigger – school activitiy. “We plan to collect used oil from restaurants nearby. We’re also telling friends and relatives about what they can do with used cooking oil,” declares Munirah Ayoob.

Fathopes Energy is also recycling fryer oil from MJ Cafe in Jaya 33 mall and Casa Tropicana condominium in Petaling Jaya, into biodiesel. Owner of the restaurants, Ken Lee, says the 14kg drums in both establishments are picked up by Fat­­hopes when they are filled up, which is every two to three weeks.

“We don’t pour the oil down the sink as it will clog the drainage system and cause major problems. We might need to spend as much as RM10,000 to clear the pipes.”

Lee says getting rid of used oil was never a problem as there are numerous collectors but now, he only gives it to Fathopes. “I don’t really know what the other collectors do with the oil but they say it is used in engines and machinery. At least with Fathopes, I know what they do with the oil. What they’re doing is more environment-friendly and I prefer to support green causes.”

Lee used to get RM60 to RM80 for a 14kg drum of oil from other collectors but with Fathopes, he has opted to instead get soap and detergent made from the glycerine that is a byproduct of processing the waste oil.

“The money for the used oil is not much. Exchanging it for soap and detergent is a better deal as we spend more than RM100 on that each month for all our cleaning and washing,” he says.

Over at the certified green building, GTower along Jalan Ampang in Kuala Lumpur, used cooking oil is also being put to good use. Some 400 litres have gone to Fathopes since last August.

Since the building opened last March, waste oil from restaurant kitchens has been collected for proper disposal, says Melissa Hon, marketing communications manager of Goldis Berhad. “Being a new building, we could afford the pre-planning and organisation of such initiatives without having to dispose of our waste oil irresponsibly, such as throwing it down the drain or selling it to waste oil collectors. We wanted to showcase and highlight that going green and being green wasn’t a difficult endeavour. All it takes is a little re­­­­thinking and a willingness to commit towards looking at redu-cing a building’s impact on the environment,” says Hon.

The building management has also opted to receive soaps in return for the used oil but to date, has not gotten any yet from Fathopes.

Waste to fuel

With his six McDonald’s outlets located in Kota Kinabalu, Harry Teo could not send waste oil from his eateries to Fathopes Energy for recycling. So instead, he is purchasing the machinery that will convert the oil to biodiesel. Teo has, for years, been searching for ways to deal with used oil and finally found a solution at a green technology exhibition in Kuala Lumpur last year, where Fathopes was one of the exhibitors. Ever since he received the McDonald’s franchise 12 years ago, Teo has been accumulating used cooking oil and now has an estimated 90,800 litres stored in a warehouse.

“Under the franchise rule, I cannot sell used cooking oil to a third party without knowing what it will do with the oil. It is difficult to monitor them. We’ve heard about used oil being recycled into cooking oil. We cannot let that happen. So I decided to store the oil until I find a solution.

“Initially when I only had one restaurant, there was not a lot of oil so I gave it to a friend who turned it into animal feed. As the number of restaurants grew, I was left with more and more oil,” says Teo.

He believes the equipment to be supplied by Fathopes will meet his needs as they are small-scaled. He expects to start recycling waste oil in a few months’ time after his staff receives training to run the machinery. He will use the biodiesel to run his company’s fleet of trucks.

“As fuel cost is growing, recycling our cooking oil will reduce our overheads. It is also for a good cause and we will release less carbon.”

For more information, go to fathopesenergy.com.

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