Wednesday 27 October 2010

Chips and Kebabs - Biodiesel

The lorry pulled up outside the kebab shop in Beccles and I saw the words WASTE VEGETABLE OILS, (or similar, I didn’t have my camera handy), Great Yarmouth Council and J & H Bunn on the side. As we’d just planned a waste week here on the TN blog and Sustainable Bungay were waiting to pick up a still for a co-operative Transition Biodiesel project, I went over and introduced myself to Ray Harding. This was in August.

I told Ray about Transition Norwich and Sustainable Bungay and our moves towards a low carbon life. I also said that whilst I’d reduced waste hugely in my own life, I knew next to nothing about what happened to waste oil and fats on a bigger scale in the catering industry.

I’d found the right man. Ray has worked for over thirty years (first in Germany and now in East Anglia) collecting waste vegetable oils and fats from restaurants, residential homes, school canteens and kebab shops, for conversion into biodiesel. At present he works for J & H Bunn, a fertiliser company based in Great Yarmouth, whose vehicles run on biodiesel and who produce some organic fertilisers.

Here is a distillation (sic) of what I learned:

This production of biodiesel from waste vegetable oil and fats has nothing to do with the ethanol made from crops like rapeseed and corn. The waste oils and fats Ray collects are taken to Viehouten’s huge processing plant in Holland, which produces 1000 tonnes of biodiesel a week from them. This is then sold on to Shell for use in transport.

In England some vegetable oil waste gets made into commercial biodiesel, but not the solid fats, which all go to the continent. In Germany and Holland these solid fats are used to produce ‘Summer Diesel’.

“Biodiesel is dying a death in England,” said Ray, “because the tax on it is so high. Over the years, it’s climbed from 0% to what it is now, 35% + VAT.”

So the business goes to Holland. Oil companies make only a few pence profit per litre of 'conventional' petrol here (because of the high tax), but can afford it because of the amount they produce. But it’s not worth their while making biodiesel. It struck me as a Transitioner that an awful lot of potential business is leaving the local economy here.

A huge quanitity of waste oil and fats get poured down the drain and create serious blockages in the water system. Ray had been running presentations along with Anglian Water about solutions to this problem and was featured in an article last Wednesday's EDP (20th October, p.21).

Ray was concerned that anyone could now make themselves 2500 litres of biodiesel a year, partly because the resultant glycerine and fatty acid residues from the distillation process would also be poured down the drain. But with petrol at almost £1.20 a litre as opposed to 30p or so for homemade biodiesel, the financial attraction is clear.

I said we'd discussed the byproducts in Sustainable Bungay and jokingly added we were taking a very Permaculture approach to the whole project, doing the research, finding our ground. I had originally got very excited about the prospect of making herbal glycerine soaps, and in the space of one meeting I'd built up a whole social enterprise in my head selling high-quality locally produced ex-vegetable oil waste glycerine skin cleaning products with organic home-grown herbs which were being sold all round East Anglia... I WAS Monsieur Le Parfumier!

Only it wasn't going to work out quite like that. For a start making something that wouldn't take the first layer of your skin off would require further processing.

So now we have the Biodiesel still in Kris's garage. Next is a group visit to someone in Aldeburgh who already has one up and running. Then who knows? A community biodiesel car club? A community van? Watch this space!

For info on Sustainable Bungay's Biodiesel project click here

Pic of Filtered Waste Vegetable Oil from Wikipedia Public Domain

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