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FUEL: The Revolution Will Be French Fried?

Philadelphia Fry-O-Diesel converts the foul brown grease from restaurant sink traps into usable, clean-burning biodiesel fuel for heating and transportation. The project promises to make a modest contribution to reducing carbon dioxide emissions and U.S. dependence on fossil fuels, highlightedvegcar2.jpg by President George W. Bush’s recent call for a 20 percent cut in gasoline consumption in the next 10 years. Fry-O-Diesel and North American Biofuels, based in Long Island, New York, are believed to be the only U.S. companies making biofuels from trap grease.

In Philadelphia, the grease is trucked to the plant after being pumped out of traps that separate it from water in restaurant kitchens. After 15 months’ testing, Fry-O-Diesel says it has proved the concept works. “We know we meet the standard for biodiesel,” said company president Nadia Adawi, referring to government specifications for the fuel. However, the company’s output hasn’t fuelled any trucks or heating systems yet — the experimental facility in an old gasket factory was never intended for commercial production.

That will change, said Adawi, when the company opens a new plant for which it is currently seeking investors. The company aims to provide a commercial alternative to petroleum-based diesel that can be produced and consumed close to the source of the grease without needing long-distance trucking of fuels, as with some soy-based biodiesel. According to Fry-O-Diesel, biodiesel can be used in most diesel engines without adaptation — unlike ethanol which requires a “flex fuel” gasoline vehicle — and can be alternated with petroleum diesel.

Despite the zeal of Adawi and her seven mostly part-time colleagues, restaurant grease is never going to be a major energy source because there just isn’t enough of it, said Steve Bantz, an engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental group in Washington. If all the estimated 3.8 billion pounds of U.S. restaurant grease produced annually was used, it would make 495 million gallons of biodiesel or heating fuel, equivalent to just 1 percent of the country’s diesel consumption, Bantz said, quoting figures from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

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