March 09, 2011

Recycled vegetable oil powers biodiesel revolution

As published in The Erin Advocate

Could the availability of a fuel made with used vegetable oil from restaurants persuade you to buy a used diesel vehicle? I'm not quite ready to take that plunge myself, the idea being too new to have penetrated the automotive lobe of my brain, but the possibility is intriguing.

The question arose while watching Fuel, a documentary about our addiction to fossil fuels. It was the second in the Fast Forward Film Festival series, presented monthly at the Legion by the Climate Change Action Group of Erin (CCAGE) and Credit Valley Conservation (CVC).

The film follows the quest of Josh Tickell to promote sustainable energy alternatives, including a transcontinental trek in a "Veggie Van", powered by frying oil from fast food restaurants. Drop in to

The presentation was sponsored by Erin's own Everpure Biodiesel Cooperative, which produces a sustainable fuel for diesel cars, trucks, generators, farm equipment and home heating furnaces.

Biodiesel can be made from crops like soy and corn, but environmentalists have turned thumbs down on this method, since it diverts food into fuel, driving up the price of food. There is also research into biodiesel from algae, which can be grown using waste water.

Everpure's model is a food-fuel recycling loop, selling canola oil to some 40 local restaurants like Saucy Soup, Bistro Rivière, David's, Churrasco 77, Busholme Inn and Duke of Hillsburgh. Everpure gets the waste fryer oil back for free and puts it through a chemical-catalytic process to produce 100 per cent biodiesel.

It can power diesel engines just as well or better than the fossil diesel sold by petroleum companies, with no engine modifications. Everpure sells it to their 70 co-op members for five cents per litre less than the going price at the gas station.

The restaurants get to call themselves "green", while users get a fuel that produces no additional greenhouse gases, emits 95 per cent less particulate matter and 75 per cent less carbon monoxide than fossil diesel, has no sulfur and is non-toxic / non-flammable.

"If there's ever a spill of biodiesel, the biggest danger is slipping," said organic farmer Jay Mowat, a founder of Everpure, answering questions after the film. The project began at Everdale Farm five years ago when they could not find a biodiesel supplier. Now the co-op collects about 500 L / week, and is ready to expand to more than 2,000 L / week. Find out more at

Production is done in Acton at Zuraw Technologies, in partnership with chemical engineer and entrepreneur Michael Zuraw. In July, they hosted an Open House event, supported by Wellington-Halton Hills MP Michael Chong.

It is a simple, radical project that is making a difference. In a society that depends so heavily on oil, however, the annual sale of 25,000 litres is just a drip in a very large bucket. All the arable farmland in North America could only produce enough biofuel to replace 20 per cent of fossil fuel use.

"Biofuels are not a silver bullet, they are not an answer," said Mowat. "In certain instances, like Everpure, it can be one of the solutions, one of the alternatives. I personally believe the only way to get off the fossil fuel train is reducing our use – starting to learn how to conserve. We are a very wasteful society in terms of fossil fuel production.

"We have no desire to become the Imperial Oil of biodiesel. We want to take local waste oil, produce biodiesel locally, then sell it to local farmers and drivers.
"Very few people know about it. Most of the work the co-op does is education. If we brought the message out a bit better, people would start to use it, if it was available."

Before you rush out and buy a diesel vehicle, be aware that there are limitations. Diesel passenger vehicles made in 2007 and later have emission systems that only accept a blend of up to five per cent biodiesel. New farm tractors and big rigs can take Everpure's 100 per cent biodiesel, said Mowat. Check the warranty as well, to see if it limits the proportion of biodiesel.

Also, biodiesel turns to a non-flowing gel at about -5° C, effectively shutting down sales for the winter – though they do sell containers to mixing enthusiasts. A non-gelling additive would cost an extra 20 cents per litre.

"We are barely financially sustainable now," said Mowat. "If we had to add 20 cents a litre, I don't think we would find very many customers."

The Everpure pumps in Erin, Orangeville, Acton and Guelph are the only places in Ontario where you can get 100 per cent (B100) biodiesel. Naturally, their pumps run off batteries charged by solar panels. Members pre-buy $500 worth of fuel, or get bulk delivery to their farms.

Everpure has been doing research, in partnership with the University of Guelph, into biodiesel home heating, with the help of a $5,000 grant that Mowat won in a competition at the Ontario Co-Operative Association conference last October.

"We should be able to supply, with some luck, biodiesel for home heating fuel, with slight modifications to your furnace (nothing that would void a warranty) next winter, on a limited basis," he said.