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Total oil call: Petrochemical giants want food industry leftovers for biofuels

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Niamh Michail

By Niamh Michail+

21-Dec-2016
Last updated on 21-Dec-2016 at 14:09 GMT2016-12-21T14:09:59Z

© iStock/Galdzer
© iStock/Galdzer

Suez and Total are calling on Europe's food industry to sell its used cooking oil for biofuel conversion, after pledging to increase the amount that is collected and recycled by 20%.

Suez and Total signed a ten-year agreement to work together to meet the 20% target earlier this month.

© iStock/Petmal

The partnership will cover used cover used cooking oil (UCO) sourced from all types of producers including the food industry, restaurants and also individuals. 

Suez said it is already working with fried food processors, plant oil factories, frozen food producers, caterers, breweries, bakeries and food spreads producers but would not disclose any names.

A spokesperson told FoodNavigator the agreement mostly targets France but that manufacturers in neighbouring Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and also Poland could participate.

The oil will be processed into biofuel at Total’s La Mède biorefinery, near Marseille, which is set to become one of the largest in Europe.

Currently, 45,000 metric tons a year of used cooking oil are collected in France, out of an estimated total of more than 100,000 metric tonnes.

Senior executive vice president of Suez Recycling and Recovery Europe, Jean-Marc Boursier, said this type of tailored solution was making industrial ecology a reality by optimising the use of resources. “Our collaboration with Total to process used cooking oil into biofuel is a successful illustration of the circular economy,” he added.

The overall goal is to replace new, vegetable oil for biofuels with more sustainable sources such as used cooking oil or Palm Fatty Acid Distillate (PFAD), a result of the refining process of crude palm oil even if – in the current market – it is more expensive.

Used cooking oil is more expensive to access than new vegetable oils, because it is only available in small quantities and in numerous locations, so the logistics to gather UCO are more complicated and expensive than harvesting colza in a field,” the spokesperson said. “But UCO biofuel is more efficient in reducing greenhouse gas emissions than new oil biofuels." 

Big and small fish to fry

All types of oil can be used for biofuels, including unsold vegetable oils and margarines, and oils that have been used to fry meat and fish.

© iStock

“[However], depending on the origin of the oil, [such as] palm or colza, the number of times it has used and the age of the oil, it will be more or less charged in free fatty acids and water. This will make it more or less eligible to be converted in biofuel.”

The price that customers receive will also depend on the percentage of the oil that is converted to biodiesel and the quality of the oil, determined by its free fatty acids content.

Paris-headquartered SUEZ will test for this before commencing a contract with an interested customer by analysing samples. There is no minimum quantity required and the company says it is interested in working with both big and small producers, from 30-litre barrels to entire tankers.

Going green

Manufacturers already have the obligation in France to recycle their used oil. Throwing it out in the environment and [the water pipes] is strictly forbidden by the law because it damages the [pipes] and the water treatment stations."

By working with Suez and Total through this partnership, as opposed to other biofuel processors, food manufacturers will benefit from a reliable, international player and the guarantee that their used oil will be recycled in the most eco-friendly way.

So the big majority of food manufacturers already have collectors for their used oil, but the risk is that some collectors which are not certified will use the used oil in ways that are not environmentally efficient. A common example in France is used oil directly incorporated as fuel in tractors. However, motors are not built to burn oil without pre-processing and this generates more pollution in the end. This is why it is important for used oil producers to ensure that they work with certified collectors."

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