Could You Heat Your Restaurant With Recycled Cooking Oil?

If you're a restaurant owner, fighting grease may seem like a constant battle. In addition to cleaning up grease splatters after each shift, you and your employees will need to periodically change the grease in the deep fryers and dispose of the used cooking grease. Doing this in a safe and legal manner often requires you to pour the used grease in a special dumpster or recycling canister where it's picked up and processed for a monthly fee. However, with a few relatively minor additions or modifications to your restaurant's oil-based heating system you may be able to filter this used cooking oil and generate your own heat with biodiesel. Not only will this eliminate your grease disposal costs, it can help reduce your business's utility bills and improve your bottom line. Read on to learn more about the filtration and distillation of cooking oil into biodiesel to determine whether this is a viable option for your restaurant.

How is biodiesel generated?

Biodiesel is similar in function to heating oil -- however, rather than being distilled from crude or mineral oil deposits, biodiesel is made from animal and vegetable fats. As a result, it's more environmentally-friendly to acquire (as it can often be generated from recycled material) while also being cleaner-burning than crude oils.

If you've always been a fan of chemistry, it's fairly simple to create your own biodiesel using recycled animal- or vegetable-based cooking oils like lard, canola oil, or soybean oil. All you'll need to convert this oil to biodiesel is the addition of alcohol (like grain alcohol) and lye as a catalyst. When these substances combine in a holding tank, they create biodiesel and glycerin -- and by draining off the excess glycerin after the chemical reaction is complete, you'll be left with pure biodiesel that can be added into your existing heating oil supply and used to acclimate your oil-burning furnace to an oil and biodiesel mix.

While some who use this method only rely on a ratio of 5 percent biodiesel to 95 percent heating oil, those who have the capabilities to generate a high volume of biodiesel can opt for a higher ratio of up to 20 percent. This fuel can be a bit more caustic and drying than traditional heating oil; this is good news as it burns off accumulated residue on the inside of your supply lines, but it can also mean you'll need to check your rubber and plastic seals more frequently to prevent against cracking.

Is recycling your restaurant's cooking oil into biodiesel a financially wise decision?

While the prospect of eliminating your grease recycling fee while also generating energy seems like a no-brainer, converting to biodiesel may not be the right decision for every business. If you don't already have an oil-burning furnace, removing a functional HVAC system to install one can result in a lengthy "break even" period. With restaurants and other small businesses often operating at the very limits of their financial capabilities, investing a significant sum into a capital improvement without a quick payback can often be a mistake.

In addition, the frequency with which you change your oil -- and the level of filtration the oil needs -- could affect your ability to brew your own biodiesel. In any small business, time is money, and requiring your employees to spend significant amounts of paid time on this process could mean your recycled oil actually winds up costing more than the heating oil you've already purchased.

However, those who already utilize an oil furnace and generate enough relatively clean waste oil to supplement heating oil reserves may find that this project is a fun and cost-effective way to go green. For more information on grease removal, contact a company like Tierra Environmental & Industrial Services.