The California Energy Commission has given the City of San Francisco a $1 million dollar grant to build a pilot grease-to-biofuel facility at the SFPUC’s Oceanside Sewage Treatment Plant.
San Francisco began working with biodiesel the SFGreasecycle program in November of 2007 to collect some of the 1.5 million gallons of “yellow grease” produced in the frying pans and kitchens of participating city restaurants and residents. The collected grease is sold to area biodiesel producers and then bought back to fuel the city’s municipal vehicles.
The City intends to “create a closed loop where grease is collected from restaurants and then recycled into fuel that the city buys back to power its 1,500 vehicles”, says the San Francisco Business Times. Also reported in the SFBizTimes are objections from private producers has made it hard to make a profit. Claims that the City’s Greasecyle free collection program undercuts commercial producers have forced companies like Oakland-based Blue Sky Biofuels out of the program.
The pilot facility at the Oceanside Sewage Treatment Plant will provide the means for San Francisco to produce its own biodiesel – further frustrating local biofuel producers.
Not All Grease is Created Equal
The pilot biodiesel project is unique in that the pilot plant will create three grades of biodiesel from “brown” or “trap” grease that comes from pan scrapings and grease residue collecting in traps and interceptors underneath restaurant sinks. It’s nastier stuff than yellow grease, turning to nearly a solid at room temperature, and therefore is harder to convert to biodiesel.
SFPUC General Manager ED Harrington says:
“This brown-grease to biodiesel project is a win-win for our rate-payers and the environment. We’ll keep more grease out of the sewers AND reduce our reliance on outside energy sources for our treatment plants.”
Brown grease is usually discarded at sewage treatment plants, burned in landfills, or buried underground. San Francisco collects 2.5 million gallons of brown grease every year so the potential for development of conversion into biodiesel is significant. The CEC will monitor this and other similar projects throughout California to meet anticipated shortfall of one billion gallons of biodiesel by 2022.
The plant will produce high-grade American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) biodiesel for vehicles, low-grade fuel for running sewage plant turbines, and Rich energy for co-generation – a process that captures methane from the sewage treatment plant and converts it power the plant’s heating and electrical needs.
San Francisco’s biodiesel programs may not be perfect, especially from the perspective of private producers, but as Mayor Gavin Newsom says
“San Francisco must continue to raise the bar when it comes to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and exploring alternative energies.”
Due for completion this December, it is hoped that the new grease-to-biofuel facility will further raise the bar as the City expands its role as municipal innovators of sustainability.