New Fort Myers plant creating biodiesel out of restaurants' used cooking

Naples Daily News, November 12, 2012.

“FORT MYERS — It's a dirty job.

But Christian Colarusso is happy to have it. He's one of several recent
Florida Gulf Coast University graduates to land a job at a new
state-of-the-art plant that's pumping out biodiesel in Fort Myers.

He operates the processors and equipment that turn used cooking oil into
eco-friendly fuel that can run just about any diesel engine. His job is
all about grease.

The multimillion-dollar plant is owned and operated by FL Biofuels LLC,
a start-up that now has more than a dozen employees.

It took about four years to get the plant open, primarily because of all
the regulatory requirements. The company recently got its final permit
from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The plant, including an office building, stretches more than 25,000
square feet and sits on 2.5 acres off Edison Avenue, a few blocks from
the Lee County courthouse. It's the only plant of its kind in Florida
operating at a state farmers' market, designed to help market local
produce. One day, the owners hope to make fuel from energy crops, too,
but the crops haven't taken off in Southwest Florida.

It cost nearly $10 million to get the plant up and running, with most of
that money coming from the pockets of the three co-owners of FL
Biofuels. Lee County helped Florida Biofuels qualify for a $500,000 U.S.
Department of Energy grant from stimulus funds for the project, through
the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The fuel made at the plant is 100 percent biodiesel, but can be blended
to make lower percentages, such as B5, B10 and B20. It's sold wholesale
and the company doesn't have its own fueling stations.

One of the company's first buyers might be Lee County government, which
has a contract to buy up to 500,000 gallons of the biodiesel to help run
its vehicles over the next three years.

The plant can produce 4.5 million gallons of biodiesel a year, but it's
running at half of its capacity, making two batches of fuel a day. One
batch is about 3,100 gallons, so that's more than 6,000 gallons a day.

Cooking oil — called the feedstock — is trucked to the plant, coming
from restaurants in Southwest Florida and elsewhere in the state, which
sell it for a profit.

The conversion from waste to biodiesel involves taking the moisture and
sediment out of the cooking oil and removing the glycerin, which is sold
to other companies to make everything from soap to medicine.

There are plenty of other biofuel refineries across the country,
including a few in Florida, but they use different processing
technology. The Fort Myers plant has a Swedish system that's used all
over Europe to make biodiesel. Its processing system has a few
modifications, including an ion exchanger, which removes magnesium and
sulfur from the oil, making the fuel purer. The conversion to fuel takes
about 12 hours. There are many tests along the way.

The biofuel-making process uses very little water and the methanol used
to break down the cooking oil is captured and can be used again, said
Mindy Collier, quality control manager at FL Biofuels. More than 90
percent of the oil is converted to fuel. Murky brown oil becomes a
honey-colored fuel you can see through.

The cooking oil comes from a broker, who gets it from restaurants as far
south as Miami to north of Orlando.”

Dr. Ann C. Wilkie                          Tel: (352)392-8699
Soil and Water Science Department          Fax: (352)392-7008
University of Florida-IFAS
P.O. Box 110960                         E-mail: [log in to unmask]
Gainesville, FL 32611-0960
Campus location: Environmental Microbiology Laboratory (Bldg. 246).
BioEnergy and Sustainable Technology Society