Used cooking oil finds new life as fuel

It takes one week in a half-acre area in Minden for used cooking oil from restaurants to be processed into biodiesel fuel. Now contained within that same half-acre is the means to pump it into a diesel-powered vehicle.

Bently Biofuels opened a pump last month where the general public can dispense the biodiesel fuel into their diesel vehicles for $3.50 a gallon.

"Opening the pump has made a huge difference because we used to sell fuel in five-gallon containers and now they can pull up like a regular pump," said Carlo Luri, general manager of Bently Biofuels Co. "There's at least 50 people who come by on a regular basis."

The biodiesel pump is on a gravel road off Buckeye Road in Minden and is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. They hope to have the pump open on weekends in the near future.

"The first reaction people have is, 'Why is it more expensive than petroleum?' but we've priced the fuel to stay in business," said Luri. "The cost of raw materials is going to go up. We won't say it will stay the same price always but the cost of oil will go up faster than the price of biodiesel."

Luri said petroleum diesel prices are expected to rise since the Environmental Protection Agency has required petroleum companies to reduce the amount of sulfur in diesel fuel later this year.

"The Environmental Protection Agency has done studies on biodiesel," he said. "It's naturally low in sulfur. Sulfur burned in the atmosphere causes acid rain and particulates. Biodiesel burns more efficiently."

Biodiesel is manufactured from the reaction that occurs when animal or vegetable oils and methyl alcohol are combined in the presence of a catalyst. The process of converting vegetable oil to biodiesel fuel takes about a week.

Glycerin is the by-product of the production of biodiesel and is used by Bently Agrowdynamics in its composting program.

The resulting biodiesel can replace petroleum fuel in diesel vehicles or as a heating fuel. While most new diesel engines will need no modifications to use biodiesel, some older engines will need to have rubber hoses and gaskets replaced with the synthetic types used in newer vehicles.

The staff at the biofuels plant are working on alternative sources to make biodiesel. They are looking at the viability of certain types of algae that produce oil. Canola oil was found not to be an especially efficient feedstock and recycled restaurant oil may eventually not keep up with production.

Bently Biofuels continues to pay 40 cents a gallon to restaurants for their used oil.

"The green drums are dropped off empty at restaurants and they dump grease from french fries and when they're full they call us," said Luri.

All vehicles on the Bently Agrowdynamics ranch run on biodiesel.

The 10 buses and 8 trailers carrying the stars, personnel and equipment for the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young Freedom of Speech '06 tour got a fill-up of biodiesel fuel delivered to them from Bently Biofuels when they stopped in Stateline for a concert at Harvey's July 22.

"The tour is very environmentally and socially aware and they've been running straight biodiesel on the whole trip," said Luri. "Neil Young is the driving force behind the tour vehicles using biodiesel. Bonnie Raitt and Willie Nelson are famous for running biodiesel and more and more artists are getting involved."

Bently Biofuel's 4,000 gallon tanker is ready to make deliveries to people who don't happen to be rock stars. The tanker is equipped to fill home heating oil tanks and is available to deliver fuel anywhere in the Valley.

Bently Biofuels pump station is at 1350 Buckeye Road in Minden. Cash, local checks, MasterCard and VISA are accepted.

For more information about biodiesel or how to become part of the cooking oil recycling program, call Bently Biofuels at 783-0123.


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