Columbia residents can now recycle cooking oil at the city’s Public Works facility off Harden Street.
The city will donate the cooking oil to a Winnsboro company, Midlands Biofuels, which will convert it to biodiesel. The company will then sell the biodiesel back to the city to use in one of its garbage trucks.
The program, which is dubbed Southern Fried Fuel Initiative, has two purposes:
• First, to cut down on the amount of grease dumped into the city’s sewer system. Grease last year caused 460 sewer spills, which dumped 2.1 million gallons of raw sewage into the community.
• Second, to reduce the vehicle emissions of harmful pollutants that contribute to bad ozone, the kind that is formed at ground level by a mixture of chemicals in warm weather.
The program represents a baby step in both directions. It is only open to city residents, who make up less than half of the city’s sewerage customers. And the biodiesel will run only one of the city’s 60 garbage trucks.
But city and state officials praised the program as a good start during a Monday news conference.
“I think the city of Columbia is definitely further ahead than anybody else, certainly on this scale,” said Brian Barnes, environmental health manager for the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Midlands Biofuels was founded by Joe Renwick and Brandon Spence, two Citadel graduates who majored in business and got into biodiesel after Renwick built a bioreactor in his garage. The company makes biodiesel by breaking apart the triglycerides in cooking oil and combining it with methanol.
Biodiesel is usually mixed with petroleum diesel. All of the city’s diesel vehicles use a mixture of 5 percent biodiesel and 95 percent petroleum diesel, because the manufacturer’s warranty doesn’t cover anything above 5 percent.
The garbage truck fueled by Midlands Biofuels will run a mixture of 20 percent biodiesel. The warranty on that particular truck has expired.
The city will spend about $2.52 a gallon on the biodiesel it purchases from Midlands Biofuels.
A 2005 study by N.C. State professor Christopher Frey found that vehicles running a mixture of 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petroleum diesel reduced emissions and “suggests that there is a benefit to the use of biodiesel fuel.”
Hoover, Ala., officials started a cooking oil recycling program in March 2007, Hoover Mayor Tony Petelos said. The city collects cooking oil from anyone, and city workers convert it to biodiesel. During Thanksgiving and Christmas, when many people deep fry turkeys, the city runs commercials on local television stations with Petelos, asking people to recycle their cooking oil with the city.
The city collects about 1,000 gallons of cooking oil a month, Petelos said, and makes the biodiesel for less than a dollar a gallon. The city uses a mixture of 20 percent biodiesel in its vehicles with expired warranties.
“They can pick up an empty container at the fire station and drop it off at the fire station and take another clean container,” Petelos said. “Everyone lives close to a fire station.”
Petelos said most of the city’s recycled cooking oil comes from small restaurants.
But Tom Sponseller, president of the S.C. Hospitality Association, said he doubts whether any Columbia restaurants will participate in the city’s program.
“There is a huge market for used cooking oil in a lot of companies competing for that market today,” Sponseller said.
Most companies will purchase the cooking oil from restaurants. Others, like Midlands Biofuels, offer a tax deduction.
Columbia’s program, like the program in Hoover, is only voluntary.
“One step for us is just to give people a place to recycle,” said City Councilman Daniel Rickenmann, the newly appointed chairman of the city’s Climate Protection Action Campaign. “We hope to grow it with our neighbors and friends from (Richland) County to Lexington County to hopefully the smaller municipalities within.”