Thursday, July 31, 2008

In fryer oil, city sees fuel savings


Beach town partnering with USA scientists to make biodiesel

Sunday, July 27, 2008

By RYAN DEZEMBER Staff Reporter

ORANGE BEACH — Though most have relegated dollar-a-gallon gas to nostalgia, some in this south Baldwin County resort city are batting around the phrase in the future tense.

City officials have teamed up with University of South Alabama researchers on a project to convert used cooking oils into biodiesel in hopes of reducing clogs in Orange Beach's sewer system, lessening the carbon emissions of municipal vehicles and saving taxpayers thousands of dollars a year in fuel costs.

Though Orange Beach and its partners at South Alabama's Chemical Engineering Department are still waiting to see if the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs funds its $128,000 grant request, the $15,000 reactor needed to make biodie sel is not out of the reach for the city considering the potential savings, municipal officials said.

The biggest factor in the program's success will be residents', and restaurants', willingness to provide the used cooking oil. To that end, City Hall plans to provide one-gallon containers to residents so they can collect and deliver their old oil to the Public Works Department starting next month.

If the state grant is awarded, Orange Beach must begin making biodiesel by October, so city officials are trying to ensure they have a batch to cook when the equipment is assembled and ready to go, said Coastal Resources Manager Phillip West.

Though the city is working to establish cooking-oil collection points throughout the city, grease will initially have to be taken to the Public Works office on William Silvers Parkway. West said Orange Beach is ready with a 750-gallon reservoir for the grease, and, according to the city's grant application, the machinery it plans to use can churn out biodiesel in 50-gallon batches.
Orange Beach is largely basing its efforts on a biodiesel program that has been run successfully for the past few years by Daphne Utilities, West said. The utility has told the Baldwin Register that by collecting about 100 gallons of grease a week they're able to reduce sewer spills by 40 percent and save about $10,000 a year on diesel.

Officials at the county-managed Magnolia Landfill have also started experimenting with biodiesel production in hopes of cutting into the fuel costs at the facility, which uses about 7,500 gallons of diesel every 10 days.

With 92 diesel engines — be they in trucks, tractors, generators or heavy equipment — Orange Beach burns upward of 50,000 gallons of diesel a year, said Coastal Resources Planner Nicole Woerner. Last year's diesel bill, she said, came to $116,257.30 for 49,311 gallons, a price of about $2.36 a gallon.

Prices have soared since last year, though, making $1-per-gallon biodiesel — which is about what Daphne Utilities pays to make fuel — all the more alluring. At the moment the city is paying about $4.15 per gallon, Public Works Director Tim Tucker said.

If, for example, Orange Beach can brew 5,000 gallons of biodiesel at $1 a gallon, it would represent a savings of $15,750, assuming the cost of diesel holds at $4.15 a gallon.
Besides the savings, the plan fits into Orange Beach's goal to clean up the local environment, an initiative that has seen Orange Beach start programs to pick up recyclables curbside, purchase equipment to rake litter from the beach, collect used motor oil for recycling and sell the tens of thousands of pounds of abandoned beach chairs and tents to a Pensacola scrap dealer.
"Hopefully we'll remove a lot of cooking oil from our sewer system," West said. "And the emissions from biodiesel are much cleaner."

Of biodiesel's three ingredients, the city would have to buy methanol and either sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide, said Srinivas Palanki, the chair of South Alabama's Chemical Engineering Department who is advising Orange Beach on the project.
The lone byproduct of biodiesel manufacturing is glycerin, which can easily be turned into decorative soaps used to promote the effort, or fed to the bacteria at the city's wastewater treatment plant, Palanki and Woerner said.

Much of the grant proceeds, should the city win them, will be used to pay the university to supply faculty and graduate students to help set up, tweak and study Orange Beach's efforts. Eventually, Palanki said, the process could be replicated in other area cities and school systems.