goTaiping Everlasting Peace
                                                    Taiping, Perak, Malaysia


3 Nov 2009

Into the engine


From the housewife and the goreng pisang makcik to fast-food joints, almost every one uses cooking oil. That leaves us with plenty of used oil.

DO you know that the cooking oil you use to fry your favourite goreng pisang or even your bacon and eggs breakfast can be used to run your car? Yes, used cooking oil can be turned into biodiesel that is just as good, if not better, than normal diesel fuel available in petrol stations.

In a world sucking up fossil fuels faster than it can be pumped out of the ground, being able to turn something deemed as useless as old cooking oil into something valuable like fuel definitely makes it worth its weight in black gold.

Converting cooking oil into biodiesel is not exactly new. Japanese recycling entrepreneur Yumi Someya of U’s Corp was recently named one of Time magazine’s Heroes Of The Environment for her company’s efforts in turning cooking oil into biodiesel. In 1992, U’s Corp developed the world’s first biodiesel from cooking oil. It currently collects 100 tonnes of oil each month from 5,400 restaurants. In Britain, alternative fuel specialist ESL Fuels opened the country’s first large-scale biodiesel plant in 2000.



Biodiesel made from cooking oil can be used just like normal diesel.

In Malaysia, the potential of developing this green fuel is only now being realised, with two companies – one in Perak and the other in Selangor – embarking on the venture. In 2006, there was one pilot project in Langkawi Island that encouraged fishermen to recycle cooking oil into biodiesel to power their boats.

Turning used cooking oil into biodiesel addresses two issues: one is the creation of an alternative source of fuel and second, making sure oil waste is dealt with properly so that it does not cause any health or environmental side-effects.

Oil that is used repeatedly for frying turns dark and deteriorates, releasing polymers and compounds that are health hazards. At the same time, grease that is poured into drains will solidify and clog up the sewer system, and eventually pollute rivers and seas.

An oily matter

While most traders who collect used cooking oil sell it to factories that reprocess it into soap or cosmetic products, there have been reports of the oil being misused. Last year, a food processing factory in Kepala Batas, Penang, was shut down for using stale used cooking oil to cook their products. There have also been reports of unscrupulous traders filtering and repackaging used cooking oil for sale cheaply in night markets.

According to Ang Lee Kaw, chief executive of Taiping-based Noble Greenworld, a company that recycles cooking oil from hawkers and restaurants into biodiesel, a large amount of the waste is unaccounted for. “We don’t know where it goes. In other countries, you need a contract to collect used cooking oil. But here, anyone can do it, and you never know what happens to the collected oil.”

Inquiries at several hawker stalls and restaurants reveal that most of the oil either goes down the drain, or is sold to traders who come by in lorries.

Jackie Ong, who owns a hawker stall selling Western food in Taiping, Perak, and sells used oil to Noble Greenworld for 60 sen a litre, says he used to just pour it down the drain. “I knew that was bad but I had no alternative. Even if I send the oil to the garbage collectors, they wouldn’t accept it,” he says.

One would assume that fast food outlets such as KFC presumably go through plenty of cooking oil every day. KFC Holdings, when contacted, declined to comment on the matter.

Noble Greenworld CEO Ang Lee Kaw (left) and managing director Wee Yong Geap operating the small-scale processor that turns used cooking oil into biodiesel.

Ja’afar Abdullah, general manager of CGV Industries, believes there are between five and seven major collectors of used cooking oil in the Klang Valley, aside from numerous petty traders.

For the past six months, the company has collaborated with the local authorities of Shah Alam, Selayang and Kuala Lumpur to recycle cooking oil into biodiesel. It will soon work with the Ampang Jaya municipal council. The four to five tonnes of used fats collected each day is sent to its partner, PZ Bio Energy, to be processed at its factory in Rawang.

To alleviate fears of misuse, Ja’afar says the company maintains transparency in their operations. “We submit a report every month to the councils on where we collect the oil from, how much we get, and what we do with it. We want to prove that we are actually doing what we say, that is, converting cooking oil into biodiesel,” says Ja’afar.

The company faces one problem, however – the price of used cooking oil is not regulated, making it hard for them to compete with rival companies who pay traders up to RM1.30 per litre.

“For us, the ideal price to pay for a litre of oil is 50 sen. The maximum we can go is RM1. Anything more than that, it would not be cost-effective for us to make biodiesel, especially after you factor in the cost of transporting and processing,” says Irwan Mohd Yusof, chief executive officer of PZ Bio Energy.

A cook at a restaurant in Taiping pouring used cooking oil into a container which will be passed on to Noble Greenworld to be made into biodiesel

“We can collect more oil but because of the price war, we were forced to give up on some outlets. Even now we have to negotiate with every outlet we go to,” says Ja’afar. “There has to be some sort of regulation by the local authorities to make it more viable to turn used cooking oil into biodiesel.”

Noble cause

In Taiping, Noble Greenworld is working with the town council on their programme. Ang, a former town councillor, started the company this year with Wee Yong Geap who has almost 20 years experience in agriculture, composting and biodiesel activities in Thailand.

They emphasise waste minimisation through two means: composting kitchen waste and converting used cooking oil into biodiesel.

At the core of their operation is a small Thai-developed biodiesel processor (ranging from 50, 100 to 200 litres in capacity) that uses potassium hydroxide to treat oily waste to produce glycerine and biodiesel.

The processor can be operated by just two people, according to Ang. “If a company or restaurant has vast amounts of used cooking oil, they can conduct the biodiesel processing on their own and use the fuel for their vehicles,” he says.

The biodiesel produced by Noble Greenwood is almost 100% pure biodiesel with a byproduct of glycerine, which is used to make detergent. It currently supplies biodiesel to the Taiping Zoo for use in trams. With six of the 10 trams there running on biodiesel, the zoo benefits from cheaper fuels (the biodiesel costs 20sen less than normal diesel) and cleaner emissions.

“We used to get complaints from zoo visitors about black smoke from the diesel trams. But since switching to biodiesel, there has been no more complaints,” says zoo director Dr Kevin Lazarus. “We’ve been looking for ways to be more ‘green’ and this is a really good way to do so.”

Green fuel

Biodiesel is commonly produced through a process called transesterification – reacting the feedstock (usually vegetable oil or animal fat) with an alcohol agent (usually methanol or ethanol). The fuel produced can be used on any normal diesel engine, and works just the same as normal diesel fuel, albeit with nicer-smelling fumes.

The process is so simple that Irwan has even conducted demonstrations in parking lots, by mixing cooking oil with a portion of normal diesel and the required chemicals, in an oil drum.

Using a blend of chemicals as agents, CGV produces B70-grade biodiesel (a mixture of 70% used cooking oil and 30% normal diesel) for under RM2 a litre. It’s current daily production of one to five tonnes of biodiesel will be raised to 50 to 100 tonnes once its new factory in Sungai Jeram, Johor, opens.

CGV is finalising a deal to supply around 200 tonnes of biodiesel a month to the Defence Ministry. But the company now faces the problem of insufficient feedstock and might have to resort to using slush or crude palm oil instead.

“We hope this will improve with help from the authorities,” says Irwan. “We want the biodiesel industry to flourish here. Singapore and Thailand are already using biodiesel extensively. Plus, our Government wants all government agencies to switch to biodiesel by 2012. If we are to achieve that goal, we have to start now.”