Entrepreneurs Turn Waste Cooking Oil Into Fuel
By: Michael J. Rausch
After his release from military service with the US Coast Guard in 1996, Andrew R. Davison went to work as a mutual fund trader for John Hancock Financial Services in Boston. He said that it did not take him long to realize he was not cut out for a career in an office.
“I lasted there about three months. I was sitting in a cubicle and I was saying ‘I gotta get out of here’,” he said.
Mr. Davison traded the confines of 101 Huntington Avenue for outdoors on the Cape, spending the next 10 years running his own business as a concrete contractor on home construction projects. He and a couple of his friends, who also ran their own businesses, one as a framer, the other as an excavator, had equipment that ran on diesel fuel. When diesel fuel costs started to escalate, he found an alternative that led to his current profession—biodiesel fuel.
Biodiesel fuel is made from discarded cooking oil that has been cleaned up and processed to be re-used as either home heating oil or fuel to run diesel engines in cars, trucks or other heavy machinery. Mr. Davison said that his company,
Cape Cod BioFuels, grew out of his aim to avoid paying the high cost of diesel fuel. Leafing through a magazine one day, he read an article on biodiesel fuel and the article had an accompanying picture of a processor for making the product.
“I looked online and saw that it was about $2,500, and I said ‘it’s a no-brainer, I get a couple of buddies to go in on this, some guys that own a restaurant, we’ll be making our own fuel in no time.’ Little did we know,” he said.
Today, that one restaurant has expanded to approximately 700 businesses from the Cape to Pepperell that Cape Cod BioFuels does business with, Mr. Davison said. Some of the local restaurants the company gets its waste oil from include Tomatoes, Amare Bar and Ristorante, Surf’s Up, Marshland and Marshland Too, Bobby Byrne’s, Fiddlesticks, Lelli’s Pizza, Taverna and Sandwich Hollows Golf Club.
“It’s bio-degradable, burns cleaner, and takes less fossil fuel to make it, so there’s actually a 60 percent reduction in the energy it takes to produce it than it does to produce petroleum,” Mr. Davison said of his product. “Honestly, there is no real downside to it.”
Cape Cod BioFuels, 14B Jan Sebastian Way, was founded in 2006 by Mr. Davison along with his partners Marc W. Watson and James N. Chace. The company started small, first working with Seafood Sam’s and a couple of other places, with the partners primarily making fuel to power their own construction equipment. “Then, Kabraul Tasha down at Loud Fuel, who is friends with my partner Marc, said ‘if you make biodiesel, I’ll buy it from you,’ so we started to ramp up a little,” he said.
Currently, the company owns three trucks: two 2,000-gallon tankers, and one 800-gallon tanker. Waste cooking oil is picked up, driven to the plant, and then dumped into a large vat with a screen over the top. The screen separates the oil from the food remains, everything from French fries and clams, to chicken and beef. “Basically, we’re taking their trash and turning it into fuel,” Mr. Davison said.
The process for creating biodiesel fuel is called “transesterification.”
“Basically what you’re doing is you’re adding an alcohol and a catalyst, which in our case is potassium hydroxide,” Mr. Davison said. He explained that methanol and potassium hydroxide are mixed together to produce a methoxide solution.
That solution is then slowly added into a large volume of waste oil; up to 1,200 gallons of oil are combined with 240 gallons of the methoxide solution. The mixed oil and solution goes through several heating and purifying processes, glycerin is drained off because it will clog an engine, “and then what you’re left with is biodiesel,” he said.
Homeowners who want to burn pure biodiesel fuel to heat their home would have to install a new pump in their boiler, Mr. Davison said, because fuel companies blend biodiesel fuel with petroleum-based oil. He said that burning any fuel that is 50 percent or less blended would not require any modification to existing equipment, or the purchase of any new equipment. The use of biodiesel fuel in diesel powered car engines results in a substantial reduction of unburned hydrocarbons, Mr. Davison said. He said that the cost of a gallon of biodiesel fuel is “a little less” than regular diesel fuel, and gets the driver about five miles more to the gallon.
Still, car manufacturers will not honor a warranty if they determine a car has been running on fuel that is more than 20 percent blended biodiesel fuel, he said.
Mr. Davison said that at first his company did not even have to pay for waste oil, that the restaurants would give it away. Now, however, he gets charged from 75 cents to a dollar a gallon. He said that some of his customers sell as much as 300 gallons a week, but on average companies sell about 50 gallons every couple of weeks.
Until recently, they had been selling their entire product to Loud Fuel in East Falmouth. Now, however, they are producing more than Loud Fuel can take, so they are also selling to Mass Biofuel in Dedham. So far this year, the company has produced about 120,000 gallons of biodiesel fuel. He said that all of last year, they produced 121,000 gallons.
“We’re hoping to do a quarter million this year,” he said, mentioning that they had just passed the 450,000 gallon mark from when the company was started.
Cape Cod BioFuels is the only licensed biodiesel fuel producer in the Massachusetts with 100 percent of the waste oil recycled and used here on the Cape, Mr. Davison said. He said that there are other companies that collect the oil and grease from restaurants, but they then sell it to companies outside of Massachusetts.
“Our big thing is we want the Cape restaurants, we want them all, you know. They shouldn’t be sending their stuff anywhere,” he said. “We eat in the restaurants, our friends, our families, everybody’s eating here, so might as well do business with the people that are keeping you in business.”