Resource recovery: from local to global

FOG waste can be a valuable resource for reuse and circular initiatives. Our panel of experts explored some of the initiatives currently in place, as well as the challenges and opportunities.
EFS21: Resource recovery panel session
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This panel discussion around resource recovery took place at EFS21 in Brighton, UK, on 14 October. 

 

Introductions 

Nikolai: “ICLEI is a global network of cities, membership organisations, supporting cities with different sustainability agendas, from resilient development to climate mitigation and circular development and, increasingly, social and societal transformation.”

Gaynor: “The Renewable Transport Fuel Association’s membership comprises all the biodiesel manufacturers in the UK, all the bio-ethanol producers, all the companies that dispense biomethane, that’s green gas, into vehicles for transport. We aim to be the voice of these renewable and low carbon fuels.”

John: “S’Investec is globally connected network of investors who fund technologies that are required to move us into a circular economy position, particularly around biotech and material. We can connect companies with technologies to make credible and viable solutions.”

Anthony: “Quatra is a waste cooking oil collection company, a family-run business and the largest waste cooking oil collector in Europe. We collect over 70 million litres of cooking oil a year. It’s never been a greater time for the for the FSEs to be literally cashing in on this waste product.”

 

 

What are the biggest gaps in the move towards a circular economy of FOG? What are cities currently doing to become more sustainable?

Nikolai: “Cities obviously are main consumers of resources, the main point for economic activity. I think 75% globally of carbon emissions are emitted by cities but at the same time, they are a hub for innovation. Their population density, their consumption patterns, also offer a great place for intervention. 

This is increasingly being recognized at a European level. The circular economy agenda is at the heart of the European Green Deal. The commissioners launched their circular economy action plan, last year. There is a bioeconomy strategy talking about all these issues. There’s the Circular Cities and Regions Initiative being launched very soon, which identifies research gaps and brings cities together wanting to move towards a circular economy. FOG, which in my opinion, doesn’t get enough attention, so it’s really good to be here today to talk about the issues and solutions.”

How do government policies incentivise us to use FOG?

Gaynor: “Well, oil companies, companies that supply fuels that you use in cars, etc, have an obligation to source an increasing amount of their fuels from renewable sources. Indeed, last month, the amount of bioethanol in petrol was doubled, so we can now get 10% of a renewable fuel in the petrol. At the moment, there is 7% biodiesel in diesel, so 7% renewable, 93% fossil fuel. We need to just max out on that as much as possible. 

Overall, the amount of fuel being used in road transport is going to be going down with electrification over the next decade, but there’s still an awful lot more that can be done. So fleet operators can start running their vehicles on higher blends of biodiesel. McDonald’s uses 100% biodiesel, which is excellent – we want to see more of that. But it creates that value for these FOGs that you’re collecting. I mean, they really want this feedstock. The trouble is, it’s very valuable to them when it’s bulked up but it’s much less valuable when its dotted around on the pavement, double bagged outside a restaurant here and there. It just needs to be collected and this is the gap that needs to be joined together.” 

I've never seen a situation where there's so many potential winners. But there are so many bits that aren't quite joined up.

Gaynor Hartnell, Renewable Transport Fuel Association Tweet

What’s the current state of the market and how far we are from this FOG utopia?

Anthony: “A re-education is needed with the FSEs. Going back not too many years, FSEs were actually paying companies to come and collect the oil. It’s flipped on its head now and we’re paying vast amounts of money to these companies to collect their waste products. If we can all come together and start re-educating maybe the customers who aren’t aware that the waste they’re producing, the waste cooking oil, is a valuable commodity, will see it’s very good for them, it will relieve the pressure from water companies. We’re at the very front end of the business, collecting it from the FSEs. It’s amazing to me that they’re not maximising it to its absolute last drop.”

 

What else can we do with FOG in terms of recovery? 

John: “We have a renewable source of carbon which has a massive driver going forward, for all sorts of reasons. We all know the targets on climate change. The key word in circular economy is economy. We have to have a valorised approach to this now. Clearly, taking this carbon-rich source on some things like fuel or energy is absolutely the right thing to do but there are other things you can do with it as well. 

And in combination, taking, if you like, the model of a crude oil system, we are refining these materials. We are taking this as a raw material and refining it into fuels, into energy. There is a driver towards backing out of petro carbon systems and old style plastics, not simply because it’s the right thing to do but, actually, the product you can derive and the refining technologies that are now available, derived more functional products, of more value. And the beauty of it is, you can take it to a fuel platform, you can take it to an energy platform, so, again you’re still using renewable carbon. This is the driver but it’s difficult sometimes to change this linear thinking, to move these things forward because it looks really complicated. But it’s not as complicated as people think, it just needs a collaborative willingness to do it.”

What can we do to fast track sustainable practices in terms of fund management? 

Anthony: “We offer a fresh oil delivery service for FSEs, so they can order the fresh oil from us, we will collect the waste oil while we’re there and we’ll also introduce them to companies who can collect the food waste and grease traps and it’s a closed loop.” So, there’s still a critical need to continue this education by the water utilities but also try to make the FSEs realise they have a resource under the kitchen sink? 

Instead of the water company saying ‘we're going to fine you for the FOG build’, we should be emphasising the fact they are sitting on a very valuable commodity.

How can we move forward with this situation when we have so many different stakeholders involved? 

Nikolai: “We need strategies, not only with FOG, but resources and waste and reducing resource use. Of course, there should be an economic output, because that’s how our system works but prioritising this has not led us to the objective, to reduce resource use and move towards a circular economy. 

I think at the city level, what is really important is that the city government has the mandate for waste collection, the mandate for water, for wastewater collection, and sometimes management. It’s really important for those stakeholders to provide a vision, to provide a strategy to say where we are going as a city or region. For that, you need the right evidence base. To set up this vision, you have to have stakeholder engagement, I think that’s clear, but you also need to understand what is actually happening, how much water is there, how much other waste? This would provide a solid evidence base for these kind of policies.”

 

What’s the difference in value between used cooking oil and FOG recovered from grease trap?

Anthony: “For us, the waste cooking oil has the most value. When it becomes a FOG, it’s mixed with food waste, mixed with water, it damages the quality of the waste oil and it does devalue it. Although, speaking to our partners, there is still some value in the FOG.”

Gaynor: “It’s more challenging to make biodiesel out of FOG than it is to make it out of used cooking oil. You need an extra process on the plant’s distillation process. One of the manufacturers can do that, it can be done but it’s bit more challenging. But, if it were collected in volume, then its value would be equivalent – it becomes more valuable, the more you collect.”

 

We look forward to finding out what progress has been made at our 2022 summit!

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