Making the Most of Cooking Fat

Posted on 11 November 2011

By Karl Grossman

Fill’er up with bacon grease!

You wouldn’t say that, exactly, but biofuels — including grease left over from cooking bacon — are now being put into use in the booming biofuel industry. And a major facility for biofuels has just opened up in Suffolk County.

It’s in Calverton, at the site of where the Grumman Corp. made and tested fighter planes, now the Calverton Enterprise Park. It’s been set up by Metro, one of the New York Area’s largest fuel suppliers.

There are unusual aspects in addition to it being about biofuels. One is where and how what Metro calls the “feedstock” for the biofuels will be collected — much from New York City restaurants by formerly homeless people. Metro has partnered with The Doe Fund, a program that helps the homeless, to transition them to paid employment in its biofuel business.

“The Doe Fund is proving that used cooking oil isn’t garbage but is, in fact, an urban resource,” said George McDonald, founder and president of The Doe Fund, at a ribbon-cutting ceremony in September for the Metro facility at Calverton: “Through our resource recovery initiative, the formerly homeless ‘men in green’ get jobs and training that help them to create better lives while they contribute to a cleaner, greener New York.”

In addition to used cooking oil, the Metro biofuel will be made with algae, soy and various other plant oils.

Another unusual facet for car and truck-based Long Island: the biofuel will not be transported by truck to Calverton from Metro’s base in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where Metro is in the final stages of opening what it says will be “the country’s largest biodiesel processing plant.”

Instead, the biofuel will be moved by train, which will use a $5.5 million rail spur on to the former Grumman site, its construction funded by a $4.8 million federal stimulus grant and $650,000 from Empire State Development Corporation. It would take 2,500 truck trips to move the same amount of biofuel that can be shipped in 100 train trips, emphasizes Metro.

The fuel at Calverton — and the company plans to have two million gallons there — will be distributed throughout Long Island.

“Metro is looking forward to playing its part in helping Long Island become a greener place to live work,” said Gene V. Pullo, Metro president. “By providing a guaranteed supply of cleaner fuels, we are meeting our goal of fueling for a sustainable future.”

The company describes biofuels as making for a “more efficient, greener, cleaner energy source to heat your home or fuel your engine.”

The use of biofuels is growing rapidly around the nation and world. Airlines are even beginning to use it in jets. A July piece in Aviation Week and Space Technology reported on a KLM flight taking off from Holland “using a 50-50 blend of conventional kerosene and biofuel from used cooking oil.” It said “biofuels are critical to meeting aviation’s commitment to cut carbon emissions 50% by 2050 from 2005 levels.”

The National Biodiesel Board says biodiesel is “a renewable diesel replacement that is creating good-paying jobs, reducing U.S. dependence on foreign petroleum and improving our environment.” It has just announced that in September, “a U.S. record of 119 million gallons of biomass-based diesel were sold,” an eight percent increase over the prior month.

Biofuels can have a downside — if they are allowed to impact on the food supply. In a column in the July issue of Scientific American, Purdue University researcher Timothy Searchinger wrote: “Our primary obligation is to feed the hungry. Biofuels are undermining our ability to do so.” In recent years, he said, the production of biofuels from crops has impacted on the supply of food and sent food “prices skyward.”

This is the problem with using corn and other edible crops for biofuels. The wise course is to instead use material grown with no food value along with agricultural waste products — and stuff like algae and, yes, bacon grease.

Will we take the sensible course with this new and growing energy source?

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