East Tennessee has officially welcomed a new alternative fuel production facility to the region, and enthusiasts from state and local government to local restaurateurs are poised to help biodiesel succeed.
On hand to open the facility were University of Tennessee President Jan Simek and UT vice-president for agriculture Joseph DiPietro, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Jim Fyke, Tennessee Department of Agriculture Commissioner Ken Givens, and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam. Southern Alliance for Clean Energy Executive Director Stephen A. Smith helped wield the oversized scissors that made short work of the ceremonial ribbon at the gathering of local business leaders.
Built with an Alternative Fuels Innovations Grant from TDEC in partnership with SACE, the community-based biodiesel production unit aims to convert waste fryer oil from local restaurants into useable fuel. The production unit, which is located on the University of Tennessee agricultural campus, will also be a research center for other ag fuels like soybean oil and oilseed crops.
“We are excited about participating in another effort to provide the region and state with affordable, sustainable biofuels,” said DiPietro. The UT Institute of Agriculture is well known for partnering with DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol to produce cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass at a biorefinery in Vonore. That plant is under construction and expected to be operational by the end of the year. “The answers to our energy problems lie in a combination of sustainable, affordable, homemade and homegrown fuels, both cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel,” he said.
TDEC Commissioner Jim Fyke agreed. "Making cleaner-burning fuels more readily available while providing additional education and research capacity is an important step toward a clean energy future in Tennessee," he said. "The biodiesel production unit on the Knoxville campus will increase use of alternative fuels and create public health benefits for area communities."
Full production, double-shift capacity for the medium-scale mobile unit will approach 380,000 gallons of biodiesel per year. SACE will collect waste fryer oil from participating restaurants and the new facility will convert the waste oil into ASTM spec. biodiesel. Currently 30 restaurants and food service establishments are participating in the Knoxville area.
SACE aims to supply biodiesel to the University of Tennessee, community businesses and others. The Knoxville program will also provide students with an educational opportunity to have a hands-on learning experience through the operation, maintenance, evaluation, and distribution of the biodiesel fuel process.
Biodiesel is an EPA-certified alternative fuel that can be produced from any fat source, including vegetable oil, animal fat, and used cooking oil generated by the food service industry. It contains no petroleum, though it can be blended with petroleum-based diesel fuel and it can be used in any diesel engine without modifications. It is biodegradable, non-toxic, and non-volatile. However, the environmentally friendly fuel cannot be used as a substitute fuel for gasoline-powered engines.
Biodiesel is the only alternative fuel that has completed the health effects testing required by the Clean Air Act. When used in a conventional diesel engine, biodiesel reduces emissions significantly. SACE literature cites these figures: Reductions of carbon dioxide by 78 percent, carbon monoxide by 40 percent to 50 percent, and particulate matter and unburned hydrocarbons by as much as 70 percent. Sulfur emissions are reduced 100 percent by biodiesel.
The cancer-causing potential and overall ozone-forming potential of biodiesel are lower than conventional diesel by 94 percent and 50 percent, respectively.
People in attendance praised the alternative fuel and the cooperative undertaking as a solid example of how communities can work together with businesses to solve energy issues. The biodiesel produced by the new unit will directly replace equal volumes of petroleum-based diesel fuel from the region’s inventory.
“SACE has been pleased to partner with the UT Institute of Agriculture and the Tennessee state government to bring this project forward, “said Smith. “This is an important step in demonstrating new fuels that clean our air, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and protect our climate. SACE is proud to continue to demonstrate real solutions to real environmental problems,” he said.
Known as Clean Energy Biofuels, SACE has been successfully running a similar pilot program with 150 participating restaurants in Atlanta, Georgia, in partnership with Emory University.