UH, Pacific Biodiesel to partner for restaurant grease trap research

Hawaii Independent Staff

MANOA—The University of Hawaii at Mānoa and Pacific Biodiesel Inc. have signed an agreement to collaborate in finding pathways for treatment of waste-trap grease from restaurants. If successful, the project could turn restaurant waste-trap grease from a problematic waste into a new source of useful products, such as liquid and gaseous fuels and soil amendments.

The research agreement is an outgrowth of a Water, Energy and Soil Sustainability (WESS) research effort at UH Mānoa funded by the UH Sustainability Initiative and U.S. Department of Energy. WESS is led by the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute, and includes faculty from the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, and Shidler College of Business.

Waste-trap grease, which is generated by restaurants, is a waste stream that is heavy in fats, oils and grease that cannot be directly discharged into main sewer lines. Currently, this waste stream is collected by trucks that bring it to a central processing center, where it is processed into “fractions” or diluted form that then can be transported to various waste-treatment facilities.  Unfortunately, these fractions are still difficult to treat, and traditional waste-treatment facilities have become increasingly reluctant to accept them.

“Without a cost-effective way to treat waste-trap grease, the local restaurant industry will be threatened, which would negatively impact both the visitor industry and the community,” said lead researcher Michael J. Cooney, who is an Associate Researcher with the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute. “This is part of the University’s serious and long-term efforts toward becoming a leading driver of sustainability in the state.”

Added Peter J. Mouginis-Mark, director of both the UH Mānoa Sustainability Initiative and the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology at the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, “This project, which is part of a larger sustainability effort led by Dr. Cooney and his colleagues, is critical for its focus on water, energy and soil sustainability, as well as its interaction with commerce and industry.”

Locally owned Pacific Biodiesel is an industry leader in the production of high-quality biodiesel from used cooking oil and the treatment of waste-trap grease. Founded in 1996, the company operates plants on Maui and O‘ahu, with its newest refinery, Big Island Biodiesel, scheduled to open on the Big Island at the end of the year.

“We’re excited to be working with the University of Hawai‘i on solving some of these big wastewater problems,” said President Bob King. “Our company was created and built on the premise of environmental stewardship, so it’s gratifying that we are partnering with the state’s preeminent university campus, as well as helping another start-up, RealGreen Power, to further the mission.”

Edward F. Zwick, Pacific Biodiesel general counsel, said that potential licensing benefits could be significant, and that he was looking forward to working with the University to develop a business plan that would maximize licensing revenues.