It used to be that filling up one's gas tank with waste vegetable oil was considered a very niche, potentially costly, practice. INOV8, a company based in La Crosse, Wisconsin, is aiming to change that perception and bring vegetable oil a little bit more into the mainstream by opening up one of the first recycling and filling stations in the Midwest.
Though vegetable oil is already widely used in several countries, most prominently in Germany, it has only recently begun to make headway in the United States' burgeoning alternative fuels market. This is mainly due to the fact that the U.S. lacks the necessary infrastructure to make vegetable oil a sufficiently plentiful and viable source of renewable energy. "We've been encouraging people to convert to vegetable oil, and when they've asked about fuel availability, we've said, well, get ready to go Dumpster-diving," said Taavi McMahon, a lawyer and the president of a biofuels cooperative in Madison.Because the government has yet to start tracking vegetable oil as a significant source of alternative energy (it has not yet been included in its Alternative Fuels Data Center), there is little information available by which to judge its merits against other renewable energy sources like ethanol and biodiesel. McMahon, who points out that vegetable oil requires little to no heat processing or energy-adding chemicals, argues that it is "the most efficient use" of crop resources.
Up to now, drivers interested in switching over to a tank capable of running on vegetable oil could purchase $2,000 to $4,500 conversion kits at McMahon's co-op. INOV8's station, which opened its doors to wholesale customers this month, has a half-dozen surplus milk tanks that can filter an average of 5,000 gallons of vegetable oil each day, most of which comes from a local Kettle Foods potato chip plant (almost 3,000 gallons a week).
McMahon hopes to eventually create a veggie oil loop that would benefit all participants: farmers would grow and press their own canola and soybeans for oil, which his co-op could then distribute to restaurants and later collect in the form of old grease. This grease would then be filtered and sold back to the farmers for a reasonable price and used to power their trucks and tractors.
Responding to critics who accuse him and other biofuel enthusiasts of wasting food crops and driving up prices, thus hurting the poor, McMahon retorts that since vegetable oil is already being used in cosmetics and pet food, recycling it for use as a source of fuel is just another "alternative, not a solution." He goes on to say that, "It's a chance to help the rural economy by keeping things local. I just think it's important for people to have choices."
And why not? After all, if this waste vegetable oil is already available and not being put to good use, converting it into a cheap, efficient source of renewable fuel seems like a sound strategy. What we don't want to encourage is the increased production of regular vegetable oil, which does consume a large chunk of food crop supplies, for the sole purpose of then using it as fuel.
Via ::Chicago Tribune: Idea of veggie oil burns bright (newspaper)