Tulsans who opt to fry their turkey this Thanksgiving instead of baking it in the oven will have a new option when it comes to disposing of their used cooking oil.
Tulsa BioFuels, a company that produces biodiesel from used cooking oil, is partnering with the city of Tulsa and the Metropolitan Environmental Trust to collect the used oil on Sunday, Nov. 29 at the MET recycling depot, 3495 S. Sheridan Road. Residents not only can drop off their used cooking oil from 10am through 3pm that day, they'll also be paid 10 cents a gallon for the oil.
"We're going to be out there with our bins," said Tulsa BioFuels president Ted Banzhaf, who said he has no idea what kind of response the event will generate. "But the main reason we're doing this is so much of that product winds up in the sewage system, and that's really bad for Tulsa."
Many residents, he said, have disposed of their used cooking oil in the past by dumping it down the drain, which can result in sewer blockages, or throwing it out with their garbage, where it winds up in a landfill. Selling that oil to Tulsa BioFuels not only will keep those things from happening, it will help the newly reorganized company keep up with the demand for its product. Tulsa BioFuels collects used cooking oil from area restaurants and institutions and converts it to a fuel that is renewable and comparatively clean burning--one whose exhaust smells of French fries instead of emitting a toxic air.
Almost any engine that runs on diesel fuel can burn biodiesel without any modifications, and Tulsa BioFuels' client list includes Tulsa Transit as well as a number of local businesses with small to medium-size fleets. The company also sells its fuel to the public and is offering a 10 percent discount to its customers on the lowest publicized diesel price in the area throughout November and December. A coupon is available on the company's Web site at www.tulsabiofuels.com.
Banzhaf noted last week that the price of diesel fuel in Tulsa was $2.59 a gallon, meaning his firm would be selling biodiesel for $2.33 a gallon.
Banzhaf said the only concession motorists have to make when burning biodiesel is to use a 50/50 mixture of biodiesel and petroleum-based diesel during the winter months because the lower temperatures make biodiesel too thick to use by itself. During the summer, he said, biodiesel burns fine on its own.
Tulsa BioFuels is using Sunday's event and the two-month discount on its product to reacquaint itself with the community. Banzhaf said the company has recapitalized and is under new management, now focusing on customer service as part of its long-term goal of making Tulsa greener.
Banzhaf said he has plans to approach local public schools systems soon to talk with them about switching their fleets to biodiesel. But first his company needs to secure a greater supply of waste oil that it can convert into a usable product. Rather than being a burden that restaurants and institutions have to pay someone to dispose of, used cooking oil is a valuable commodity that can be converted not just to an environmentally friendly fuel but to feed stocks and cosmetics, as well.
"That's the challenge," Banzhaf said. "This is a competitive field. There are three or four companies in town vying for this stuff."
Used cooking oil is so highly sought after, in fact, that it sometimes is stolen. Officer Leland Ashley of the Tulsa Police Department said he had no figures available regarding how often such incidents are reported, but he said he recalled it happening periodically.
More than 50 percent of the used cooking oil generated in the United States winds up being shipped overseas, Banzhaf said.
"They sell it for a pretty penny," he said. "But we're trying to do something good with it here."
The idea of converting cooking oil to biodiesel has become a fairly common practice in the United States in recent years as the price of petroleum-based fuel has increased. But Banzhaf said Tulsa BioFuels is one of only 12 or 13 firms in the nation that works entirely with used cooking oil, as opposed to the "virgin" oil other companies employ. The higher costs those firms pay for their source material has led many of them to shut down, however, with the recent plunge in the price of petroleum diesel sweeping away much or all of their profit margin.
Banzhaf said Tulsa BioFuels has remained viable "by being small and not trying to do 15 million gallons a year. There's more than enough waste vegetable oil in Tulsa, and we think we can make a difference."
But Banzhaf is interested in lining up more restaurants and institutions willing to sell their used oil to his firm. Right now, he said, "We can sell everything we can make," so if Tulsa BioFuels is to grow, it will need to secure a greater supply of material.
"We could probably do a million gallons a year," he said.
The Nov. 29 collection event won't be the only opportunity local residents have to dispose of their waste oil. The oil can be dropped off at any MET recycling depot any time of the year. It also can be disposed of during the household pollutant collection events held each spring and fall at the Tulsa County Fairgrounds.
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