For one local company, used cooking oil might be fuel for higher profits.
American Biofuels LLC is using oils collected from 40 restaurants and other businesses to make biodiesel fuel at its Stockdale Highway plant.
The plant, built in 2003, is designed to process refined soybean oil and used cooking oils. The end product, biodiesel, is an alternative fuel that's gentle on the environment.
William ("Stretch") Fowler, director of American Biofuels, said the company decided to increase its use of waste cooking oils because soybean oil has become so expensive.
He said he pays $2.60 per gallon of soybean oil, compared to 70 cents per gallon of cooking oil. "This will bring our costs down substantially," Fowler said.
The middleman in this operation is Norm Ramspeck, president of Safe Environmental Alternatives in Bakersfield. A former truck driver, Ramspeck collects the used cooking oils and delivers the stuff to the biodiesel plant.
He parked his truck to the rear of Benji's French Basque Restaurant Thursday morning. Two barrels containing leftover cooking oils were waiting for him.
He proceeded to pump the oil into big containers in the back of his truck.
From Benji's, he moved on to Cactus Valley Mexican Restaurant just down the road, where two more barrels of cooking oil were waiting for him.
When pieces of food are mixed in with the oil Ramspeck retrieves, he has to scoop the food out so it doesn't clog his pump.
"That's where I really earn my money," he joked.
Ramspeck doesn't charge anything to pick up the oil. He also supplies the barrels free of charge. His paycheck comes from American Biofuels.
"I get paid 70 cents a gallon," he said.
He collects about 2,500 gallons of oil every two weeks.
Fowler said historically, used cooking oil collected from restaurants and food processors are rendered into a high-protein yellow grease that's added to animal feed.
Two big players in this industry are Baker Commodities Inc. in Los Angeles and Darling International Inc. in Irving, Texas. Darling has a processing plant in Fresno and serves businesses in Kern County, according to the company's Web site.
Dennis Luckey, executive vice president at Baker Commodities, said his company competes with Safe Environmental Alternative in the Bakersfield area for the collection of used restaurant grease. He said presently, Baker's grease goes into animal feeds but that the company is equipped to compete in biodiesel and is contemplating a venture in that arena.
Ramspeck said he hopes to expand his operation to Fresno within a month, at which point he said he will need to take on his first employee. Ultimately, he wants to collect cooking oils from businesses across the state.
He began working with American Biodiesel about four months ago.
He knew Joseph LaStella, president of Green Star Productions Inc., which has a 30 percent interest in American Biofuels. When LaStella asked Ramspeck if he was interested in collecting waste cooking oils that would be used to make biodiesel, "I thought about it for a long time and decided it's a dirty job but someone has to do it," Ramspeck said.
He received about $15,000 in seed money from American Biofuels, according to LaStella.
LaStella initially thought maybe 20 percent of the businesses they contacted would be interested in participating. Turned out, it was more like 90 percent, he said.
San Joaquin Community Hospital was the first to get on board. Other businesses, particularly restaurants, followed suit.
"Now I have restaurants calling me," Ramspeck said.
Lisa Liu, owner and manager of Chalet Basque, said she got involved because she wanted to do something good for the environment and she believes in supporting local businesses.
- 183 Environment