By on November 10, 2011

“It’s become the new copper,” a commodity that also attracts thieves, according to a recent NPR article. Craven criminals in bio-Benzes ganking grease from rancid restaurants, evading enforcement while powerless pigs can’t cope and draw disdain.

As usual, the invisible hand of the market has acted to equalize prices…

According to NPR,

Yellow grease, the proper name for cooking oil that’s had the food and trash filtered out of it, is selling for about 40 cents a pound, almost five times what it was a decade ago. That means a gallon of yellow grease today sells for more than $3 a gallon — on par with a gallon of milk.

A gallon of milk? Here’s another valid comparison — a gallon of diesel fuel. This week’s national average for diesel fuel was $3.88. No doubt TTAC has a few biodiesel experts who can give us the complete scoop, but it doesn’t look like there’s much incentive to use yellow-grease-based biodiesel instead of the stuff you get at the local truck stop.

While the idea of police “cracking down” on biodiesel users has some hilarious images associated with it — slow-speed chases with fifty-horsepower W123 sedans, greased-up hipster chicks ducking the cops by effortlessly slipping through tiny concrete sewer pipes — for legitimate grease recyclers this trend represents a major risk to their business. Still, one has to respect people who are willing to steal dirty grease and/or pay regular market prices for biodiesel, just because they genuinely believe in the economic and ecological benefits of doing so. Even if they don’t respect the law.

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34 Comments on ““One man who was convicted in Los Angeles… left the courthouse, and got right back in his truck, stealing grease”...”

  • avatar

    My dad manages a restaurant. He said the price he sells his used grease to a recycling company for is only a few dollars less per 5 gallons than he buys it for to cook with. The insane price of used cooking oil made it so that in less than 5 years the industry has gone from having to PAY someone to take the used oil to getting quite a bit back for the used oil; often to the point where the oil costs them very little in the first place.

  • avatar

    Never let fact or even proper terminology intrude into a good story, right?

    Grease is not BioDiesel. BioDiesel is not grease. BioDiesel is to grease as Gasoline is to Crude Oil – a product of refining. Grease/SVO/WVO is unrefined.

    Vehicles that run on straight or waste vegetable oil must be modified; usually with dual-tank systems and heaters that pre-heat the veggie oils up to ~120°F to reduce its viscosity so as not to clog the injection system. Very few, if any modern Diesel engines can be modified to run on grease, so mostly what you see running this fuel are older vehicles. Converted vehicles must start and stop while running petroleum Diesel to prevent the grease from sitting in the injection pump and unheated fuel lines and solidifying when cold – hence the conversion to a dual-tank system.

    BioDiesel goes through a chemical refining process that removes free fatty acids and impurities. The result is an oil that is very similar to petroleum-based Diesel fuel in weight. It can be run in almost any Diesel engine without any modification. It can also be blended with petro-Diesel and usually is nowadays at around 5% to add lubricity back into the petroleum after the sulfur has been removed from it. Post 2007 CARB-compliant Diesels generally can not tolerate BioDiesel blends over 10%—20% as they use a post-combustion injection of fuel into the exhaust stream every X strokes to burn off soot from their particulate filters and were engineered for the burn-range of petroleum. BioDiesel burns cooler and tends to clog the particulate filters rather than burn them off as designed. So BioDiesel is generally not used in volume in small-displacement (automotive) “Clean Diesel” applications anymore. This is ironic as BioDiesel is actually CLEAN and carbon neutral, unlike petroleum. Ah the law of unintended consequences! Thank you California.

    You may now return to your mocking of grease thieves in 1980 240Ds.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Easy there, killer. The source article clearly states that the grease is mostly taken to small refiners, not poured directly into a 240D. I also explicitly stated that,

      “No doubt TTAC has a few biodiesel experts who can give us the complete scoop”

      Thanks for doing so.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m with you on the “clean”, but I’d quibble on the “carbon neutral.” Full life cycle, it’s still better than petroleum, but not even close to neutral.

      “Both corn ethanol and soybean biodiesel are net carbon sources but do have 12% and 41% lower net GHG emissions, respectively, than combustion of the gasoline and diesel they displace.”

      Carbon-Negative Biofuels from Low-Input High-Diversity Grassland Biomass. David Tilman, Jason Hill, and Clarence Lehman
      Science 8 December 2006: 314 (5805), 1598-1600.

      • 0 avatar

        Sean, I’m not a scientist, merely a backyard amateur chemist. ;)

        I was comparing contemporary plant-based carbon, to the ~150,000,000 year old carbon that Exxon-Mobile sucks out of the earth’s crust. Carbon is everywhere, all the time, but what BioDiesel does NOT do is re-inject carbon from the Jurassic back into the atmosphere, which is the one of the big issues with fossil fuels.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      One friend here in Texas runs his 300D wagon on a mixture of filtered used vegetable oil and diesel while another runs his Dodge Ram on methyl-ester biodiesel he makes in his garage. They adjust the percentage of petroleum diesel vs. alternative as needed for temperature. In both cases the motivation is saving money and having a DIY source of fuel when the apocalypse comes, not reducing their carbon emissions. Both probably wish they could still buy less expensive high-sulfur petroleum diesel. Last time I fueled my car regular gasoline was $3.099/gallon while diesel was $3.699/gallon.

  • avatar

    Learn something new everyday. Thanks Chuck.

  • avatar

    Not surprising that this is occurring; the demand was bound to eventually catch up with the supply.

    What is surprising is how long these drivers have been getting away with not paying Federal and state motor fuel taxes…you’d think by now the “revenue-ers” would have started cracking down on this.

    • 0 avatar
      Japanese Buick

      I can’t put my hands on a reference but I did read a news story a couple of years ago that revenuers who were at a NASCAR race looking for diesel drivers using off road (i.e., non tax paid) dino diesel also fined biodiesel users they caught up in their net if they couldn’t prove that they had paid road taxes.

  • avatar

    a) Once again The Simpsons weirdly presages the future.

    b) Since cooking oil is extracted from plant products mostly grown here in the U.S., it’s a goddam patriotic act to go eat as much fried food as you can. I’m doing my part at lunch.

    • 0 avatar

      The next step in this technological chain is to find a way to distill that oil back out of my bloodstream. I hope that comes soon because when it does I, and millions of other Americans, will be sitting on a gold mine! Literally.

  • avatar

    The next time someone tells you a fuel source is cheap, free or even cheaper than current offering just ask them “for how long?”

    Just wait until a significant portion of cars are full electrics on the grid. Just like the rebates for buying them, we’ll all pay higher rates as a result of the strain on the grid.

  • avatar
    Darth Lefty

    So what has happened to demand for 300D’s?

  • avatar

    Jet-A is very similar to diesel in chemical and physical properties. Alaska Airlines paid $17 a gallon for bio jet made from Tyson poultry waste in order to run a test flight. Alternate fuel from food waste sounds attractive, but “the devil is in the details”. Gas-To-Liquids may be a much more practical alternative to crude as a source of distillate fuels (jet,diesel,heating oil).

    • 0 avatar
      Chicago Dude

      United Airlines has a Boeing 737 in revenue service flying paying customers using bio-jet-A. Alaska Airlines is scheduled to start doing the same this week.

      The US military is certifying all of its aircraft to fly on biofuels. The F-15, F-16, F-18, C-130, C-17 and others are already there. The Navy Blue Angels now do their airshows while burning biofuels. The target is 50% of aircraft fuel usage being biofuels by 2016. Once the infrastructure is in place to produce that much, you should expect a lot more commercial flights using it.

  • avatar

    How much of the price of Diesel fuel is taxes?

    I assume they have not yet found a way to directly tax old restaurant waste.

    • 0 avatar

      Quick Google: Federal diesel tax is 24.4 cents.
      State tax on diesel ranges from 8 cents (Alaska) to
      51 cents (California). National average is 29.5 cents plus 24.4 cents = 53.9 cents.

      The Taxes are much more than they were when gas and diesel were both 30 cents (=/-), but as a percentage of the price, taxes are much lower now. Just don’t tell that to politicians.

  • avatar

    And again, the world is surprised and amazed to see the laws of supply and demand in action.

  • avatar

    True, it “doesn’t look like there’s much incentive” if yellow grease goes for $3.88, but “more than $3 a gallon” does not equal $3.88.
    Up to 87 cents discount per gallon is a heckuva deal.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Yes, but as Mr. Goolsbee points out above, this is a raw product which must be refined. You won’t get a gallon of biodiesel from a gallon of yellow grease.

      • 0 avatar

        Yeah, there is a roughly 20% conversion loss. The raw COST for the materials to make BioDiesel varies with the cost of the two primary chemicals used: MeOH (Methanol) and either KOH (Potassium Hydroxide) or Lye (NaOH). I haven’t cooked my own fuel in well over a year, as I moved from a temperate climate (western WA) to a quite cold one (central Oregon, a high desert where it freezes almost every night) but last I bought Methanol it was ~$4 per gallon, and KOH was almost a buck a pound – MeOH is reusable, but KOH is always consumed. Averaged, it cost me between 90¢ and $1.10 to produce a gallon of fuel. I was able to source my grease for free. At anything over $2.50—$3 a gallon for feedstock (grease) home-brewing fuel doesn’t make any sense.

        (sorry for the excessive parenthetical statements above)

    • 0 avatar

      Using restaurant grease is probably MORE expensive than diesel at the pump, after you filter the crud out, and that assumes your time and effort is worth nothing.

      Kind of like buying a hybrid to save money; it’s more about making a statement or fitting in with a certain crowd.

      • 0 avatar

        A hybrid will be more economical compared to a top of the line non-hybrid. Compared to a base, not so much.

      • 0 avatar
        dvp cars

        …..toad… I’d rather not know where that “crud” you refer to, goes….. NIMBY, I hope, unless it’s good for rosestomatoes(hemp?)….I also agree with your “time and effort” reference, not many wives or neighborhoods would rejoice at a lingering deep fried egg roll ambiance.

  • avatar

    Forget the 300D- I’d go straight to the top and get its big sister the 300SD.

    Add a set of Lorinser or AMG rims, do the Euro headlight conversion, put the slim euro bumpers on, and install a custom aftermarket cold-air intake and exhaust, and you can save the earth in style!

  • avatar

    I have a long time friend who had, or perhaps still has his 85 300D wagon that he, for a time anyway, ran on biodiesel.

    Currently, straight diesel sells in some Seattle stations at over $4 a gallon, with regular 87 octane gas selling at these same stations for just under $4 a Gal.

    The cheapest places seem to be Arco and Costco at around $3.70 or a bit less a Gal for 87 gas, but I don’t think diesel is sold at either place though.

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