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From fat to fuel; Santa Cruz shares results from first-in-nation community-based biodiesel production


At an Earth Week celebration today, Santa Cruz, Calif.-based nonprofit Ecology Action shared results from its first-in-the-nation community project that converts used restaurant cooking oil into biodiesel fuel for the area’s transit systems.

In 2005, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded a $75,000 grant to Ecology Action to pilot the first community-based biodiesel production initiative in the United States. Over the past six weeks, the nonprofit, along with local restaurants, Salinas Tallow, BioEAS Inc, a biodiesel plant, distributors and local Public Works Departments, collected about 5,500 gallons of high-quality waste cooking oil from restaurants, which was then blended to make 22,000 gallons of B20 -- a 20 percent biodiesel fuel -- and sold to local fleets.

“Over the coming year, this community effort will result in almost 47,000 gallons of waste cooking oil being used to make 190,000 gallons of the B20 biodiesel blend -- enough fuel to fill the tanks of over 4,000 city of Santa Cruz recycling trucks, or enough to fuel a fleet of school buses for an entire school district for a year,” said Tom Huetteman, the EPA’s Waste Management associate director the Pacific Southwest region. “This project is a model for other cities and counties across the country.”

Ecology Action expects more restaurants will participate as the program expands, resulting in higher quantities of biodiesel made from local waste feedstock.

“This program exemplifies the wide breadth of partnership and problem solving that Ecology Action has always endeavored to embrace,” said Ecology Action’s Executive Director Virginia Johnson. “This project was a confluence of all of the Ecology Action hubs -- sustainable transportation, climate protection, pollution prevention, zero waste, and energy efficiency.”

Biodiesel fuel generated from waste feedstock is more sustainable and far less polluting than petroleum diesel. Biodiesel significantly reduces greenhouse gases, particulate matter, or soot, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide in air emissions. Produced from renewable resources, such as waste cooking oil or soybean oil, biodiesel reduces dependence on limited energy resources and foreign oil.

The “Fryer to Fuel” process recovers energy and recycles waste oils that could possibly be dumped in landfills or flushed down drains, clogging pipes and causing costly sewer overflow spills, which have the potential to pollute the Monterey Bay.

The pilot is a partnership program spanning the whole process from post-consumer feedstock to the fuel consumer:

· Restaurants, which usually pay to haul away their waste oil, now give waste to grease haulers free of charge. Grease haulers are paid by the biodiesel manufacturers.
· Biodiesel manufacturers use a low-cost, recycled-waste feedstock instead of virgin vegetable oil, increasing the sustainability of biodiesel.
· The pilot program’s biodiesel fuel consumer market has expanded to the city and county of Santa Cruz Department of Public Works and the county’s waste franchise Green Waste, Inc., and the local oil waste hauler, Salinas Tallow, all of whose vehicle fleet will be running on the alternative fuel.


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