Renewable energy is amazing. Sun, wind and tide cost nothing, but have the potential to generate phenomenal amounts of electricity. Alongside these well known energy sources, innovations and developments in technology have made it possible to harness power from waste materials. Using old cooking oil to generate carbon neutral electricity is one such example.
Living Fuels and Living Power (subsidiaries of REG Bio-Power) are UK based companies which do just this. Homes across the country, or commercial premises, such as the local fish and chip shop, use vegetable based oils to cook food. Where food is deep fried, oil often ends up as a waste product that needs to be disposed of.
One tonne (or a thousand litres) can generate enough electricity to power an average home for one year. Living Fuels collect used cooking oil and employ a natural process to refine it to produce a fuel called LF100, which can, in turn, be used to generate electricity. What is more, the process used involves no chemicals or heating of the oil to high temperatures; it is based on settlement, and then filtration, so offers a good solution to the management of waste cooking oil in terms of sustainability.
LF100 can then be used in combined heat and power (CHP) units to supply electricity. Currently this industry generates electricity equivalent to that required to power around 17,000 homes. A plant using LF100 supplies power and heat to one of the Port of Dover passenger terminals, whilst another has an emergency reserve contract with the National Grid.
Waste cooking oil can also be reclaimed to produce biodiesel. This involves a different process with the end result being biofuel rather than electricity. Irrespective of which way it is recycled there are significant benefits for the environment. Three-quarters of all call-outs for drain blockages are the result of problems caused by used cooking oil. The Environment Agency highlights the need for responsible disposal by both commercial and domestic users. Sadly, much oil does find its way into the drains and sewers. This is, obviously, bad for the environment, and cost water companies some £15 million annually, which is, in turn, reflected on utility bills.
Facilities are available across the country for both domestic and commercial collection of used cooking oil. Many commercial premises, such as councils, schools, hotels and restaurants, have arrangements for collections, and many household waste recycling centres across the UK have containers for disposal of used domestic cooking oil.
Using waste it to generate electricity is one of a number of technologies which will, together, form part of a framework for maintaining the UK's future energy supplies. Importing fossil fuels exposes the country to the potential of price fluctuation and supply shortages. Legislation is in place which means the alternatives must be sustainable, and the EU as a whole is committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050.
Waste and pollution is problematic for the environment, and disposing of a waste products, such as this, and turning it into a renewable energy source gives a very positive solution. With favourable energy comparison results compared to other fuel sources this is a fantastic solution to recycling and energy; though it is unlikely to see as much popularity as solar and other renewable sources of fuel.