Monday, November 05, 2007

From Restaurant Fryers, a Petroleum Alternative

NY Times
November 4, 2007


SINCE the Asian restaurant Pearl East opened in Manhasset 10 years ago, its owner, Cathy Huang, has been disposing of the excess cooking grease from egg rolls and fried noodles in a big trap outside that had to be pumped out monthly. She put waste vegetable oil into big barrels and paid a hauler $40 a month to take it for recycling.

But that will change this month as part of the latest environmental initiative by the Great Neck Water Pollution Control District. Excess grease and oil will be removed from the restaurant’s fryers, collected in 55-gallon drums and transported free to the district’s plant, where it will be converted into biodiesel fuel and used to power the district’s four vehicles and generators.

The food-to-fuel pilot program was developed to encourage proper disposal and turn waste into a resource, said E. Jane Rebhuhn, one of the district’s three commissioners. The district joins several municipalities on Long Island that use biofuel.

“We are in the environmental protection business,” Ms. Rebhuhn said, and waste vegetable oil can block sewer pipes. The program will also create fuel that discharges fewer pollutants, she said.

“It’s good for them and good for us,” Ms. Rebhuhn said.

The “think green” philosophy of the Great Neck district is also evident in other projects.

For example, when a garage roof on the district plant’s property needed repairs, it was replaced with one modeled after the Chicago Aquarium’s — using a liquid membrane system made in part from soy and containing no petroleum products. The district also has plans to use fats, oils and grease to produce methane gas for heating at the plant, in place of more costly natural gas.

Christopher D. Murphy, the district superintendent, said, “My goal is to be able to use biodiesel to generate a good portion of the electricity at our plant, which will save us money and reduce our dependence on petroleum.”

The district collects waste water, treats it and then discharges it into Manhasset Bay. The district serves 15,000 residents and businesses in parts of Great Neck and Manhasset — about a third of the Great Neck peninsula — including the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System.

Earlier this year, the district sent letters to the 100 restaurants it serves, seeking partners for its food-to-fuel project. After four restaurants expressed interest, the district selected Pearl East to begin the program; the other three will come on board soon.

The district has supplied the restaurant with two drums to hold its waste oil. A truck will pick up the waste and deliver it to the plant, where it will be separated into glycerin (used for soap) and biofuel.

“Many environmental projects are costly and have a 30-year payback, but this is a quick and rewarding process that costs under $5,000 to start,” Mr. Murphy said. “The cost of diesel fuel at the gas pumps is about $3.25 a gallon, but it costs only 70 cents a gallon to produce. And we can use the glycerin in our plant for cleaning and degreasing, which was costing us about $1,000 a month.”

The fuel smells like fried food, Mr. Murphy said, adding, “If you’re driving behind a vehicle using this fuel, you’ll feel like you’re driving past McDonald’s.”

The district’s environmental initiatives drew praise from Ronald J. Gulmi, chairman of the Greater Long Island Clean Cities Coalition, a nonprofit government-industry partnership. The organization uses money from the United States Department of Energy to promote national energy security by reducing petroleum dependency and to improve air quality through the use of alternative fuels. Over the past 11 years, the coalition, based in Bay Shore, has financed more than 100 projects with municipalities, school districts and businesses.

“If you’re not looking at being green in buildings and transportation,” Mr. Gulmi said, “you’re not living in today’s world.”

No comments: