FOG feasibility study underway in Missouri

By Erin Voegele
Posted Sept. 13, 2010

Columbia, Mo.-based H2O'C Engineering is studying the feasibility of recycling the fat, oil and grease (FOG) found urban sewer systems into biodiesel. The study has been funded by a $50,000 subgrant awarded by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. According to Tom O'Connor, the owner of H2O'C Engineering, his firm has partnered with Pennsylvania-based BlackGold Biofuels for the project.

The study will focus collecting FOG from two Missouri metropolitan areas, Kansas City and St. Louis. "We are looking at what they call the 'grease-shed,'" O'Connor said. Similar to a watershed, a grease-shed is essentially the pattern of where FOG originates and how it flows into the sewer system. "We've also got a particular eye on waste water treatment facilities," O'Connor said, which will include quantifying how much FOG is present in the wastewater systems and whether or not it is feasible to convert that material into biodiesel.

"[FOG] is problematic nasty stuff," O'Connor said. "They have problems with it throughout the sewers, all of the collection pipes. It tends to clog up pipes and pump stations and that sort of thing. Optimally, it wouldn't be there. It's a complete nuisance, and we're going to capitalize on the fact that it is there. When it gets to the water treatment plants, it's generally skimmed off and landfilled. It's pretty nasty stuff, but it does have energy content, and with enough cleanup, we think we can make it into on-spec biodiesel."

However, O'Connor also noted that it's important not to encourage people to think it is okay to put FOG down the drain. Ideally, the better option would be to capture that material before it ends up in the sewer. "We're going to look at capturing it whenever and wherever we can," O'Connor continued. "Optimally that would be more upstream than downstream."

The feasibility study will include an evaluation of what restaurants and other FOG producers are currently doing with their grease, and where it is flowing. "I think we'll try to get a good mental map of where the waste fats, oils and greases are being produced at scale, and what they are doing with them now," he said, which includes looking at the current system for collecting that waste and hauling it away.

The feasibility study will be complete in January 2011. "It's going to be a kind of road map or template that would help other communities forge their way down this path of capture and reuse of this fats, oils and grease waste product," O'Connor said. "A lot of people spend a lot of money fighting the fats, oils and grease in the wastewater industry. We want to demonstrate to the state of Missouri that it is feasible, and we want to encourage other communities to look at it as an alternative, and implement it, and give them kind of a road map with which to do so."
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