Recycling & waste world: oil recycling held up by legislation blockage


Article published in Recycling&Waste World November 2009

It is estimated that over ¼ million tonnes of used cooking oil is produced in the UK every year.Historically, much of this has gone to landfill or, even worse, down the drains – where water companies spend more than £15 million each year in direct clean up of fats, oils and greases in our sewers.

Ian Collins, managing director at Living Fuels, explains how this could all be a thing of the past – just as soon as UK legislation has caught up with the government’s strategy on waste reduction and renewable energy.

Last month (October), environment secretary Hilary Benn argued that: “we must now work together to build a zero waste nation – where we reduce the resources we use, reuse and recycle all that we can and only landfill things that have absolutely no other use.”

Secretary of state for communities and local government John Denham added:“If we continue to send recyclable and compostable waste to landfill we are missing a major opportunity to generate heat and energy and missing an opportunity to turn that waste into money.”

These statements are good news for the rapidly-expanding industry surrounding energy from waste.

But, asks Ian Collins, managing director of Living Fuels, what of the companies which are working with materials that have legally ceased to be waste?

“Like many companies working on large scale innovative solutions to bring renewable energy technologies to market,” says Collins, "we’re appealing to the UK government to remedy the discrepancies between waste reduction and renewable energy strategies and current UK legislation.

“Clearly the Government’s strategy and publicity about renewable energy generation and waste reduction is not in tune with the existing legislative burden.”
Living Fuels, a subsidiary of AIM listed REG Bio-Power, has perfected a method of refining used cooking oil into a biofuel – LF100which can be used to generate clean electricity.

Living Fuels’ plans to produce combined heat and power (CHP), from LF100 on a large scale, fall directly within the remit of the UK Renewable Energy Strategy (July 2009).

However, says Collins: "the gulf between strategy and regulation means that there is currently a greater legislative and financial burden on our carbon-neutral fuel than less environmentally-friendly, fossil fuel counterparts such as diesel.

“This is because, despite being classified an end of waste (EoW) product by the Environment Agency – which means the fuel ceases to be a waste product once it leaves the filtration process – LF100 is still subject to the Environmental Permitting Regulations 2007 (EPR).”

The EPR states that all waste and combustion activities above certain thresholds must either be granted an exemption under the regulations or hold a permit before operations begin.Living Fuels, like other companies in the renewable energy sector, is affected by the wording in Section 1.1 which states that “fuels manufactured from or including waste” require a permit as the oil they are created from was once classified a waste product.

The EPR legislation does not take into account the legal and technical status of EoW fuel products.

Collins continues: “it takes a lot of time and money to achieve EoW status and achieving this mark should mean that the fuel is treated as having ceased to be waste.However, in reality the EPR continues to treat EoW fuels as a waste product.That means a heavier financial and legislative burden than mineral diesel.”

However, says Collins, there is hope for the UCO renewable energy market."We’ve been working closely with our constituency MP, the Environment Agency, Defra and the environment secretary to raise awareness of the discrepancies in the legislation.

“A number of discussions have taken place in London in recent months.These have opened the way to amending the regulations so that it’s commercially viable for companies to recycle the vast quantities of UCO – currently clogging our sewers and filling our landfill sites – into renewable energy.

“If the legislation does not catch up with strategy and technology then we will miss a real opportunity to build the renewable energy capacity of the UK while supporting the drive to become a zero waste nation.

“Otherwise, the UK will remain at a major disadvantage in comparison with Europe where such restrictions do not apply.”

Public sector sustainability

Living Fuels is working with over 34 local authorities and London Borough Councils on an innovative scheme which places UCO collection tanks into household waste and recycling centres (HWRCs).There are more than 120 tanks in place at sites around the country with a further 20 due to be installed by the end of 2009.

Dan Gillert, commercial manager at Living Fuels, says: "recycling used cooking oil not only supports the public sector’s commitment to the environment but also the wants and needs of many commercial businesses looking to increase their sustainability.

“The introduction of used cooking oil to generate heat and power reduces carbon emissions and means that everyone – from the large food processors and catering companies down to the individual householder – can play their part in building Britain’s renewable energy capacity.”

In July 2009, secretary of state for energy and climate change Ed Miliband suggested that we will need to produce enough energy from renewable sources by 2020 to supply the equivalent of nearly all 26 million homes in the UK with their current electricity needs and four million homes with their current heating needs.And, claims the UK Low Carbon Transition Plan July 2009, we must do so largely without emitting greenhouse gases.

“Just one litre of used cooking oil, says Gillert, “when refined into LF100, can fuel a generator to generate 4.5 kWh of electricity.That’s enough to make 240 cups of tea, run an A-rated dishwasher for three hours or power an energy saving light bulb for 225 hours.”

He continues: “there is an estimated ¼ million tonnes of UCO being produced in the UK every year.That’s enough to power ¼ million average homes for a whole year.UCO will not solve the energy crisis on its own, but, it will certainly make a big impact.”