Grease Collection in the US: Feedstock for Biodiesel
by Ian Winner (Optimus Technologies/special guest author for Advanced Biofuels USA) Grease Collection Overview — When we talk about grease, what do we mean? Grease can refer to yellow grease, choice white grease, edible or inedible tallow, lard, trap grease (also known as brown grease), poultry fat, and hydrogenated vegetable oil. Those in the industry generally refer to this category as Fats, Oils, and Greases (FOGs). For the purpose of this overview, grease is recycled spent cooking oil (also known as “yellow grease”).
Restaurants create millions of gallons of yellow grease per year. 249,243,160 gallons in the US to be exact. If not collected properly at restaurants, the grease can be a burden on waste water infrastructure and water treatment facilities.
There are two main types of entities that step in to fill this problem: haulers/collectors and renderers. The haulers/collectors are the companies that contract with restaurants to collect their spent cooking oil. These haulers/collectors then sell the oil to renderers who process it in order to be able to sell it to end use markets. Renderers may also have their own collection business. Haulers/collectors may also sell the oil directly to biodiesel plants.
Size and Nature of the Market
In 2014, the United States grease collection business had an estimated $2 billion annual revenue. The average yearly growth from 2009-2014 is 9.1%. The industry is expected to continue its growth at an annualized rate of 5.6% until 2019.
Not a lot of data exists on the grease collection industry; one possible reason is the highly competitive nature of the business. A fascinating personal account of this trend is recorded in this 2013 New Yorker article which includes FBI agents, surveillance cameras, sting operations, and lawsuits.
Due to the competition, many haulers provide locked containers (pictured below) to deter theft. This does not vanquish it entirely, however. Dar Pro (mentioned in the 2013 New Yorker article) says it loses millions of dollars to thefts each year.
Photo: Consolidated Fabricators Corp.
There are no known federal regulations on the grease collection industry, but many states, counties, and other local authorities regulate the industry. One example is Georgia which passed a law in 2004 requiring grease collectors to register with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division or the local governing authority. The law also requires that the grease collectors’ trucks be inspected and permitted annually by the same authority.
How Grease Collection Works
Restaurants use oil (usually a type of vegetable oil) in fryers or other cooking applications. One study in South Carolina found that the average restaurant uses about 44 gallons per week.
Once the oil is spent, the restaurant empties it into a collection container (generally provided by the contracted hauler/collector or renderer) which is placed outside in an accessible area. The restaurant then replaces the spent oil with fresh oil in the fryer. The contracted collection company will come by (at some pre-determined interval) to empty the spent grease container.
Photo: Keevac Industries
Oil is usually pumped out using a vacuum truck (pictured below). At the end of the month, the grease collection company will do one of three things (depending on market conditions and location):
- Be paid by the restaurant for the gallons of grease hauled away that month
- Receive the grease for free
- Pay the restaurant per gallon of oil collected
It should be noted that there is a known market price of spent cooking oil (known as “yellow grease”), but this price is for the oil the renderers have filtered and refined (Prices for this refined grease can be found here. Note the prices are listed in cents/pound. Multiply the cents by 7.7 to get the price/gallon).
Uses for Collected Grease
There are three main end uses for “yellow grease:” a biodiesel feedstock, livestock feed, and for use in manufacturing pet food.
A Small Sampling of Haulers/Collectors and Renderers in the Industry:
The state(s) or region listed next to each company is a presumed service area. This list does not include biodiesel plants or distributors. If you are looking for those, a good reference is the National Biodiesel Board website.
For a more comprehensive list of industry renderers, check out the quarterly updated National Renderers Association list.
- Alternative Fuel Foundation – New England
- DieselGreen – Texas
- Greenlight Biofuels – Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia
- Hulsey Environmental Services – Georgia
- Lifecycle Renewables – New England
- Waste Oil Recyclers – Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware
- WVO Management – Texas
- Baker Commodities – Continental US
- Dar Pro – nationwide (also a collector)
- Valley Proteins –Continental US
Water Industry News: http://www.waterindustry.org/Water-Facts/FOG-1.htm
IBIS World: http://www.ibisworld.com/industry/cooking-oil-recycling.html
The New Yorker Magazine: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/11/18/hot-grease
Consolidated Fabricators Corp: http://www.con-fab.com/standard-grease-bins
An Assessment of the Restaurant Grease Collection and Rendering Industry in South Carolina: http://www.scbiomass.org/Resources/Documents/assessment%20of%20restaurant%20grease%20report%20-%20summer%202010%20_updated_.pdf
US Department of Agriculture National Weekly Ag Energy Round-Up: http://search.ams.usda.gov/mnreports/lswagenergy.pdf
Keevac Industries: http://www.keevac.com/products/vacuum-trucks/
National Biodiesel Board: http://biodiesel.org/using-biodiesel/finding-biodiesel
National Renderers Association: http://www.nationalrenderers.org/about/directory/
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*Ian Winner is a Research and Business Analyst with Optimus Technologies. He studies trends and regulations related to the biofuel industry. For more information about Ian, check out his LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ianwinner.
Optimus Technologies manufactures EPA-approved biofuel conversion systems for medium and heavy-duty diesel trucks. With this simple approach, Optimus’ solutions provide fleets the easiest way to reduce fuel costs, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and address renewable fuel targets – all with a low payback period.
Advanced Biofuels USA thanks Optimus Technologies for providing this explanation of grease collection for biofuel feedstock for our readers. It does not constitute an endorsement by Advanced Biofuels USA of any specific technology.
Iowa Has the Blueprint for Energy Independence
by Governor Terry Branstad (The Gazette) … The good news is that America has a blueprint for becoming energy independent through renewable energy sources, and that blueprint is right here in Iowa. I support an all-of-the-above energy approach, including traditional resources, but most traditional energy booms eventually wane. In contrast, renewable energy production promotes continual wealth generation throughout rural America.
Embracing renewable energy and harnessing Iowa’s renewable-rich resources has been a passion of mine since I began my career in public service. I’ve been a relentless supporter of biofuels dating back to the 1970s, when we called it “gas-a-hol”.
Biofuels have enabled value-added opportunities for a variety of biostocks including corn, cornstalks, soybeans, and woody biomass. And, renewable fuels have created high-paying jobs and rewarding careers in rural America. The use of co-products, such as Dried Distillers Grain (DDGs), is also important to growth in agriculture. As a by-product of ethanol production, DDGs have provided producers with a safe, reliable and inexpensive feed especially for cattle, as well as for pigs and poultry.
Today in Iowa, we produce significantly more ethanol than we consume in gasoline. We’re investing in renewable fuel infrastructure to give consumers more choices at the fuel pump. READ MORE