Small-scale biodiesel production offers fuel-supplement, new-revenue prospects

6th July 2012 By: Schalk Burger - Creamer Media Senior Contributing Editor

Community-scale production of biodiesel from used oils and fats can effectively provide a high-value product to supplement local fuel use and form an additional revenue stream for farmers who produce oil-yielding crops, says UK biofuels company Green Fuels founder and CEO James Hygate.

“There must be an existing market for the food crops for a sustainable biofuels industry to exist. Biofuels from waste oils do not compete with food crops and also allow for the use of non- food oil-yielding crops such as camelina and the jatropha berry to produce high-value fuels for use in the communities,” he notes.

Chicken fat, waste cooking oils, crude palm oil and coconut oil are being used in Paraguay, the UK, Mexico, the US and Mozambique to produce biodiesel which runs taxi fleets, bus fleets and the Royal Train in the UK, he notes.

“The scale of our Fuelmatic systems, ranging from 3 000 ℓ a day to 20 000 ℓ a day, has been proven successful the world over during its nine years of service and is suited to local applications, while the distribution of the biodiesel can be done from site to local markets.

“There is immense opportunity for local farmers – in particular subsistence farmers – to become more sustainable. The scale of the biodiesel plants means that community structures can be created that provide formal employment opportunities, additional markets for waste oils, seeds and damaged crops, as well as a secondary market for oilseed producers,” says Prince Skosana, MD of Matayo Biofuels, Green Fuels’ partner in South Africa.

“Cooking oils can be sold, used and resold to produce biodiesel, which improves the value chain for oil-yielding-crop farmers and oil producers, and enables oil users to recoup some of the costs of the oils used,” notes Hygate.

Demand for fossil fuels will increasingly outstrip supply, while the volatility of petroleum prices increases the risks for farmers dependent on fuel to operate, he says.

Biodiesel can be produced in a 1:1 ratio from oils through a transesterification process that unbinds the three fatty acid strands from an oil molecule’s glycerine and binds them to an alcohol, usually methanol. The machine then automatically removes the glycerine, through a patented glycerine separator, and purifies the resultant fuel through an ion-exchange process, he explains.

The machines are simple to operate, require little energy and are modular, which means that production could be increased as the supply of oil and the scale of production increase, says Hygate.

Further, the biodiesel contains no sulphur and burns cleaner than mineral diesel, releasing 60% to 80% less particulates, which reduces injector fouling and improve engine life. This is especially noticeable in diesel generators that run below their full generating capacity, notes Hygate.

“Larger biofuel plants often fail because they cannot secure a reliable supply of used oils to convert to biofuels. However, community-scale biofuel production enables farmers, entrepreneurs and established companies to start on a small scale and easily ramp up production as more oil is secured.”

A typical restaurant would produce 300 ℓ to 400 ℓ of used oil a month. McDonald’s in Dubai uses 100% of the waste cooking oil from its restaurants and runs its entire logistics fleet of trucks on the resulting bio- diesel, he highlights.

“The Green Fuels technology can provide a channel for collected used oils, is economically sustainable owing to its small scale and can help to address energy challenges. Farmers can formalise the collection of oils and the distribution of biofuels in a community, or as a cooperative venture,” notes Skosana.

There is tangible value added to local communities and the system could also be used in cities. A restaurant can operate a single delivery vehicle on the biodiesel it produces each month, while remote farmers can produce their own biodiesel and secure a portion of their fuel at a much lower cost, says Hygate.

In London, PricewaterhouseCoopers runs its head office building on biodiesel produced from used cooking oil, as do many London taxis.
“The biodiesel industry works and has been proven. There is a significant opportunity in South Africa to reduce waste and emissions, while creating employment opportunities and stimulating rural economies,” concludes Hygate.