There are several sources of renewable energy—solar, wind, water.
Then there are the unconventional sources of power like chicken poop or pig dung that electrify some farms.
But did you know that used cooking oil can also generate electricity? Those vats of oil used to fry chicken or French fries can power up generators or even run cars.
This waste-to-energy technology was developed by a Japanese, Ozamu Nichikawa, in 2009. It was introduced in the Philippines in 2014 by Nichikawa’s company, Renergy. Although this system is not new, having been used in several countries for years, it has yet to catch on in the Philippines.
Jay Carandang, Renergy’s general manager, said Nichikawa’s invention took off from the very first internal combustion engine developed by Rudolph Diesel in 1894 which ran on peanut oil.
“This technology is not entirely new, it’s just going back to the roots. The only difference is we use waste oil. One good thing about used cooking oil is it never expires and you can store it and then sediment will settle at the bottom. All you have to do is suck the good oil from the top,” he said.
He explained that Nichikawa’s fuel management device was designed specifically for diesel engines.
“What it does is it blends waste cooking oil with the standard diesel fuel. Any edible oil is usable, we just have to select the ones that are easier to filter out. There are some kinds of oil that are quite difficult to filter,” Carandang said.
Since the machine performs best on vegetable oil, they choose palm oil, corn oil, or canola. This is because the better the condition of the waste oil, the easier it is to clean and filter it.
“We’re just minimizing the preparation, the filtering. There are oils that need to be heated first to make it less viscous, that needs time to prepare so we select the oil. Low grade oil is hard to filter, standard palm olein is easier to filter,” Carandang said.
A 200-liter of used cooking oil “in good condition” takes an hour to filter.
“The duration of filtering depends on the quality of waste oil. That’s why we talk to chefs and ask them to separate the oil,” Carandang added.
Now that local government units and most companies are pushing for the use of “green” energy, Carandang believes that their technology can compete with other clean sources of electricity like solar, wind and water.
He explained that his company not only recycles and make use of waste oil that would either be dumped by some establishments into the environment or used as dangerous additives to food consumed by animals and humans.
“We have suspicion that waste cooking oil is used for the second time. Another thing is it gets mixed with animal feed,” he said, stressing that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources considers used cooking oil a hazardous waste.
Carandang said the Renergy technology yielded positive results when tested on buses but the company did not pursue it, preferring to focus on companies that use generators because “these are the market.”
So far, only one establishment was bold enough to embrace the Renergy system— the Ambassador in Paradise Resort in Boracay.
Powered by waste
The 60-room resort, which prides itself of being the “greenest” establishment in Boracay, took the leap in March 2014 when it installed Renergy’s TG1000. Since then, the machine, feeding on 70 percent waste cooking oil and 30 percent diesel, had provided power to the establishment whenever there’s a brownout, which according to locals, happens frequently.
Joop Vandertak, owner of the resort, believes that they are helping preserve the environment by using Renergy’s waste-to-energy technology. More than saving on cost, Vandertak puts premium on doing Mother Nature a good turn not only by recycling used cooking oil but by using other renewable sources of power. The establishment has solar panels installed in the rooftop of every building, and uses 6 vehicles in ferrying patrons and their luggage.
Carandang said the resort alternately uses its two generator sets when power from the grid becomes unreliable. The generators – a 220-kilovolt ampere (kva) and a 500 kva—are managed by Renergy, which also sources and collects used cooking oil. When there’s a power outage and occupancy rate is above 50 percent, the 500 kva generator, which consumes 45 liters of fuel per hour, kicks in. Although Renergy uses the 70:30 ratio (70 percent waste cooking oil and 30 percent regular diesel), Carandang said the ratio for waste cooking oil can go as high as 90 percent if the quality of the used oil is excellent.
Vandertak is more than happy with the technology and hopes that more business establishments will soon see its benefits and embrace it.
For an investment of P2 million, Carandang said an establishment that uses their device can recover the cost in one year in terms of savings. Their machine is easy to operate since the only maintenance needed is changing the filter every so many hours.
For now, only the Ambassador in Paradise resort is using this kind of waste-to-power technology, but Carandang is hoping that soon, local government units, food establishments, more resorts and companies using generator sets will discover the benefits of the Renergy system and be a friend to the environment.