A slick recipe for both health and energy (February 6 2019)

An attempt to produce biodiesel from used cooking oil on a large scale at a facility in Haryana could add a new dimension to sustainability.. It is the first biodiesel plant of its size...

An attempt to produce biodiesel from used cooking oil on a large scale at a facility in Haryana could add a new dimension to sustainability.. It is the first biodiesel plant of its size in India and has been in operation for two months. Its success, therefore, will set a benchmark. In Bawal, Haryana, the plant was set up with an investment of ₹90 crore and can produce 100 tonnes of biodiesel a day. But its uniqueness is in the raw material it uses: used cooking oil or UCO. On that peg hangs a bag of benefits, but also a bunch of problems.

It will be some years before one can judge whether BioD Energy Pvt Ltd was smart or foolhardy in taking the risk with UCO. But at the end of two months of operations — the plant went on stream in early February — the management seems to be satisfied with the result. In developed countries, the application of UCO to produce biodiesel has been in vogue for many years. In the US, for instance, UCO is mixed with aviation fuel. Since India consumes about 23 million tonnes of cooking oil, it ought to be a major user of UCO. But the reality is the opposite — only three million tonnes of UCO is recovered. The reason is the cooking culture in this country. In India, commercial users of oil — hotels, restaurants, bakeries and snack-makers — do not dispose of the oil once it is used. Instead, it is carefully preserved and re-used several times over until it becomes unsuitable and darkens in colour. It is at this point that the oil is sold to low-end eateries, food stalls and snack-makers. Finally, most of the oil is consumed in kitchens. That used oil is harmful for health has been well recognised. Each re-use not only brings down the quality of the oi, but also increases health hazards, including the risk of cancer. But economics overrides such concerns and the use of oil has carried on unchecked.

Makers of UCO-based biodiesel just can’t compete with the price the restaurants offer for used oils and hence, biofuel manufacturers have generally kept away from this raw material. A welcome intervention Things changed for the better in July 2018 when the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) brought in rules for cooking oil and declared it “unsafe” to use oils multiple times. The rules are clear that oils containing more than a certain level of ‘total polar compounds’ are unsafe. But the devil is in getting the commercial kitchens to comply. In the war between law and economics, the latter generally gets the upperhand. But BioD Energy has taken a leap of faith. It has hedged itself by designing its plant to be also able to use fatty acids, an alternative raw material. Shiva Vig, CEO of the company,
says that in the last two months the company collected 250 tonnes of UCO from 700-odd kitchens in Delhi-NCR and Haryana. It has been able to obtain it for about ₹28 a kg – landed cost at the factory is another ₹10 — and sell the biodiesel to pumps in the region. Shiva says the cost works out cheaper than conventional diesel.
So far, so good. The problem, nationally, lies in scaling up the effort so that three million tonnes of UCO is used for making biodiesel.

Last August, a month after bringing in the rules for UCO, the FSSAI launched an initiative to bring the corporate sector into the UCO-biodiesel fold. Over 60 companies came forward to put up plants at 100 locations. The McDonald’s facility was the first to take off. But it uses its products in-house, for powering its trucks.
BioD Energy’s performance will be watched by others wanting to enter the field. “The profitability of biodiesel production is significantly linked with the policies of multiple sectors such as agriculture, food and feed processing, research and development, industry and commercial trade,” notes Vig. India consumes about 85 million tonnes of diesel annually. If only 5 per cent of it could be substituted with biodiesel, it would create a biodiesel market of about 4 million tonnes. Instead of growing crops for producing biodiesel, UCO could be gainfully used. But that is only if dhabas and street-side food vendors are persuaded not to use second-
hand cooking oil.



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