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Braddock company turns french fry oil to fuel

By Kristopher Lancaster, Point Park News Service:

The unused oil and waste is cleaned for filtering. Photo: Kris Lancaster | Point Park News Service
The unused oil and waste is cleaned for filtering. Photo: Kris Lancaster | Point Park News Service

The same oil used to make french fries and fried chicken in most cases can fuel diesel engines.

Fossil Free Fuel, based in Braddock, has been converting leftover cooking oil into biodiesel since 2007, helping improve the air and water quality throughout Pittsburgh while cutting down carbon emissions and bringing money back into the community.

“Basically, we have a big pumper truck that goes out and collects oil from restaurants when it can’t be used to cook with anymore, “said Dave Rosenstraus, co-founder of Fossil Free Fuel. “We collect it, bring it back to our offices and then put it through a filtering process so that it can be fully refined to be used in diesel engines that have a conversion system.”

The process of collecting the oil begins whenever a restaurant that uses Fossil Free Fuel’s services fills up a container full of oil. The amount of oil varies based on exactly how much the restaurant uses. Some restaurants, such as Salt or Spak Brothers, need a collection every week or two, while smaller ones collect once a month.

“Some of our bigger clients will usually have about four or five barrels for collection, while others may only have one or two barrels that we don’t collect from very often,” said Josh Park, an employee at Fossil Free Fuel.

Once the oil is collected, it is brought back to Fossil Free Fuel’s facility where the oil is cleaned down to particulates that are only about two microns thick. From there, the fuel is distributed to customers, priced about 50 cents to 60 cents cheaper than the cost of petroleum diesel. Most of the sales are done at the fueling station at the Braddock facility, while other big sales are delivered.

“Most of the time we’ll just fill them up here, but if it’s for a construction company or something like that, then we have to deliver it,” Park said.

The use of biodiesel reduces carbon emissions by about 85 percent, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. By replacing standard emissions, that can help improve the air and water quality of Allegheny County, which ranks last in environmental health in the state of Pennsylvania.

The oil is filtered for distribution. Photo: Kris Lancaster | Point Park News Service
The oil is filtered for distribution. Photo: Kris Lancaster | Point Park News Service

“When you compare it to regular diesel, the biodiesel has fewer hydrocarbons, which are contaminates that can be harmful to people,” Rosenstraus said. “The carbon going into that is pretty low compared to digging oil up out of the ground.”

Fossil Free Fuel’s work helps all areas of Pittsburgh, but none more so than Braddock, a town that struggled for years to get back on its feet economically. It may have seemed like a strange place to set up shop back in 2007, but Rosenstraus is glad to call it home.

“When we first came here, we were kind of looking around Pittsburgh in general, and then we came here and met the mayor,” Rosenstraus said. “He was so enthusiastic about what we are doing. This was the only place where a public official really welcomed us in, so we figured we would come here. It’s worked out well so far.”

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