Friday, May 30, 2008

Guard that Grease! (And Bird Droppings!)

Ever deep-fried a turkey, or had a tempura party?

Great fun, good food. But what to do with that rancid used oil? We're not supposed to pour it down the drain, and it would kill your compost pile.

Thanks to high fuel prices, you might just leave a container of it by the garbage and hope someone steals it.

The New York Times reports:

"Outside Seattle, cooking oil rustling has become such a problem that the owners of the Olympia Pizza and Pasta Restaurant in Arlington, Wash., are considering using a surveillance camera to keep watch on its 50-gallon grease barrel. Nick Damianidis, an owner (pictured above), said the barrel had been hit seven or eight times since last summer by siphoners who strike in the night.

“Fryer grease has become gold,” Mr. Damianidis said. “And just over a year ago, I had to pay someone to take it away.”

"Much to the surprise of Mr. Damianidis and many other people, processed fryer oil, which is called yellow grease, is actually not trash. The grease is traded on the booming commodities market. Its value has increased in recent months to historic highs, driven by the even higher prices of gas and ethanol, making it an ever more popular form of biodiesel to fuel cars and trucks.

"In 2000, yellow grease was trading for 7.6 cents per pound. On Thursday, its price was about 33 cents a pound, or almost $2.50 a gallon." "

Well, this is one aspect of the restaurant industry that doesn't get much attention! Grease thieves aside, though, there are several outfits that are well aware of this goldmine.

There are specially-outfitted grease collection trucks available for the purpose.

(Cartoon from Mumblings from a Padded Room)

NWPR's Traffic Manager Laura Hartner was once a grease collector. With dreams of making her own biodiesel, she went from fryer to fryer, asking for their used grease, which they were only too happy to give to her. After all, it meant they did not have to pay for the oily (and sometimes stinky) stuff to be removed from their premises! Unfortunately, Laura wasn't able to realize her wishes, so I put her in touch with a friend of mine, who converts the grease into biodiesel in his backyard. He runs a couple of very nice European diesel cars on the stuff!

I wonder if the price of commercial diesel is going to put a crimp in the fuel line of home biodiesel manufacturers.

The price of oil is also affecting the price of fertilizers made from the black stuff. And that's reviving an industry in Peru, for guano. Bird (or bat) droppings.

Also in the New York Times:

"Guano in Peru sells for about $250 a ton while fetching $500 a ton when exported to France, Israel and the United States. While guano is less efficient than urea at releasing nitrates into the soil, its status as an organic fertilizer has increased demand, transforming it into a niche fertilizer sought around the world."

The guano comes from birds such as these guanay cormorants, found on Isla Asia, one of Peru's guano islands (picture from Bill of the Birds)

According to one guano collector:

"There might be 10 years of supplies left, or perhaps 20, and then it will be completely exhausted,” he said, referring to fears that the seabird population could be poised to fall sharply in the years ahead. It is a minor miracle that any guano at all is available here today, reflecting a century-old effort hailed by biologists as a rare example of sustainable exploitation of a resource once so coveted that the United States authorized its citizens to take possession of islands or keys where guano was found.

As a debate rages over whether global oil output has peaked, a parable may exist in the story of guano, with its seafaring treachery, the development of synthetic alternatives in Europe and a desperate effort here to prevent the deposits from being depleted.

“Before there was oil, there was guano, so of course we fought wars over it,” said Pablo Arriola, director of Proabonos, the state company that controls guano production, referring to conflicts like the Chincha Islands War, in which Peru prevented Spain from reasserting control over the guano islands. “Guano is a highly desirous enterprise.”

Little wonder then, that the Peruvian government restricts guano collection, and station armed guards at each of the islands to ward off threats to birds, which produce 12,000 to 15,000 tons of guano a year.

Read the whole article: Peru Guards Its Guano as Demand Soars Again. You can get a close-up look at Peru's guano islands at this blog entry on Bill of the Birds.

And here's the grease story: As Oil Prices Soar, Restaurant Grease Thefts Rise.

1 comment:

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