Fats to grease Muni’s wheels 

Leftover grease from San Francisco’s restaurants will be recycled into fuel for The City’s diesel buses, under a $1.3 million program in the works by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

Fats, oils and grease have been a significant problem for San Francisco’s sewers, SFPUC officials said. When not disposed of properly, the greasy waste can form thick layers inside the pipes. Sewage flow becomes constricted, which causes odors, attracts rats and leads to backups in The City’s sewer system, all of which create costly cleanup problems.

In the spirit of turning lemons into lemonade, the SFPUC expects to start collecting grease from The City’s restaurants as early as this fall; the collected waste will then be converted by a local manufacturer into environmentally friendly biodiesel fuel.

"We’re turning an enemy of our sewers into an ally for the environment," SFPUC General Manager Susan Leal said. "From blocking the sewers to moving the buses."

The fuel that would be put into the buses would still be 80 percent regular diesel — with 20 percent biodiesel — under a formula known as B20. According to The City’s biodiesel policy, the goal is to convert San Francisco’s diesel fleet to B20 fuel by the end of 2007.

At least 1 million gallons of biodiesel fuel could be manufactured from the oil collected from The City’s 2,600-plus restaurants, said SFPUC official Lewis Harrison, who added that is "more than enough" to contribute the required 20 percent to power the entire fleet.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, biodiesel is a biodegradable, nontoxic alternative fuel produced from renewable resources. It is safe to use in any diesel engine and is far less polluting than conventional petroleum diesel. "This is an important fuel for the future," said EPA spokesperson Mark Merchant.

The Public Utilities Commission set aside $1.3 million of the agency’s general fund budget this year to implement the biofuel program. The money will cover the cost of purchasing two trucks to collect the restaurant waste, hire drivers and other staff for the program, and conduct all the necessary studies and file legal paperwork to get the program on the road.

The cost to manufacture the fuel will be partly offset due to the fact that The City is providing the raw materials — the fats, oils and grease, or FOG, Harrison said. A gallon of biofuel purchased at the Biofuel Oasis in Berkeley costs $3.65 per gallon.

The SFPUC also found out last week that it was awarded a $1 million grant from the California Energy Commission to do research on using leftover food grease for alternative energy, Harrison said.


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Bonnie Eslinger

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