TECHNOLOGY: From French Fries to Fuel

Instead of adding fuel to the fire, Pacific Biodiesel (PacBio), Kahului, Hawaii, has developed a way to convert used vegetable oil from restaurants into fuel. This has eliminated the need for landfilling this waste and created a safer method to dispose of oils that could cause fires in static waste piles.

According to Robert King, PacBio's owner, he began searching for a safer oil disposal option in 1995 when landfill operators complained that static-pile fires were becoming more frequent and oil could leak into groundwater. At the time, one of King's businesses maintained generators at the Central Maui Landfill.

King turned to the Internet for alternative fuel information, thinking that recycling the cooking oil was the best solution. Eventually, he was lead to Daryl Reece, a researcher at the University of Idaho's Department of Biological & Agricultural Engineering, who established the oil recycling process.

In 1996, King founded PacBio. Located at a landfill, the biodiesel plant receives used oil directly from pump trucks that service restaurants and hotels. Using a single-stage conversion process, the plant produces up to 150,000 gallons per year of premium biodiesel for diesel engines. PacBio then sells the fuel to the County of Maui, local farmers, diesel car owners, boat-tour companies and one hotel, which uses the fuel to power landscaping machines.

"Although diesel is part of biodiesel's name, there is no petroleum diesel in the fuel," King says. "Biodiesel is 100 percent vegetable oil based."

Advantages to PacBio's fuel are that it has a higher cetane rating than conventional diesel fuel, King says. Biodiesel also is safer to handle and store - its flash point is at 300 degrees vs. 170 degrees. At $1.95 per gallon, which includes freight costs, biodiesel is comparable in price to other alternative fuels, King says.

According to King, engine modifications are not required to use biodiesel - it's blendable with 20 percent conventional diesel and reduces emissions, he says. And instead of a diesel fuel stench, the biodiesel is accompanied by french fries or apple pie odors.

Currently, the catalytic chemical process used by PacBio is not widely commercialized in the United States or other countries, but it's documented in research. The significant capital and operating costs of handling millions of gallons of oil per year can make biodiesel plants a large-scale undertaking, King says.

Nevertheless, PacBio is exploring developing plants in Europe. Yoshida & Co., Nagano, Japan, currently uses the plant to service its Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) franchise and 60 other restaurants. The Yoshida plant produces 600,000 liters of biodiesel fuel per year with the capability of expanding to 1.2 million liters per year. A Hong Kong plant also is expected to be completed in the next year.

To contact PacBio, visit www.