Red&Black: UGA alum converts restaurant grease into biofuels

  • UGA graduate and Greenlife Biofuels intern Rick Temple is part of a team that turns used restaurant grease into biodiesel
  • The EPA estimates estimates biodiesel emits 78 percent fewer greenhouse gases than dielsel
  • This alternative reduces the US dependency on foreign oil
  • Greenlight Biofuels offers free marketing and advertising incentives to its over 6,000clients in the Southeast

By EMILY PATRICK on July 14, 2011

Rick Temple buys old grease.

Since he graduated from the University this spring, Temple has been working as an intern with Greenlight Biofuels, a company that converts used restaurant grease into biodiesel.

Biodiesel is considered an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional diesel fuel. The EPA estimates that it emits 78 percent fewer greenhouse gases than diesel.

“It burns cleaner; it reduces our dependence on foreign oil and it reduces the greenhouse emissions that are put out from everyday cars,” Temple said. “There doesn’t need to be any modification to a diesel car’s engine for our biodiesel to run in it.”

Temple holds a degree in political science and had originally planned to go to law school in the fall. But after a study abroad trip to New Zealand, he became interested in pursuing a career in renewable energy.

“I’ve always been kind of aware of being green and recycling and whatnot, and I think that the New Zealand experience over there really opened my eyes in terms of what they do,” he said. “Over here, people are so mindless about what goes on.”

“With Greenlight, I feel like I’m making a difference,” he said. “I feel like our whole company is making a difference in terms of getting restaurants signed up and making an impact.”

Temple’s typical work day involves making cold calls to restaurants and explaining the biodiesel business to owners and managers. He estimates that Greenlight has between 20 and 25 accounts in Athens, including Kelly’s Jamaican, Earthfare, Shane’s Rib Shack, Phi Mu, Zeta and SAE.

Ryan Myers, one of the owners of Amici Italian Cafe downtown, has used Greenlight Biofuels for several months, and he said he is pleased with the business.

He has even recommended it to other restaurant owners.

“What made me want to do the switch was just being a little bit more green about it,” he said. “They keep the area back in the back clean. The other company came and just dumped it. There’d be grease all over the place.”

Greenlight, which has more than 6,000 accounts in the Southeast, provides free advertising and marketing incentives.

“We have a team of marketing specialists that handles broadcasting what the current accounts are doing with their oil,” Temple said. “It’s a costless way for a restaurant to get more exposure in their community.”

But the competition for grease is fierce. Temple said he has heard of companies stealing grease out of rivals’ dumpsters.

Companies offer restaurants a rebate that depends on the amount of grease the restaurant produces, but Myers said the money has never been enough to determine who gets his grease.

Most grease companies are not making biodiesel. Carolina By-Products and Darling International have accounts in Athens. They use the grease to make products such as animal feed, soap and makeup.

“They say they recycle, but really they’re just fattening up chickens,” Temple said. “Technically, they are recycling, but they’re doing more dirty of a practice than what we’re trying to do. We’re just trying to make a cleaner fuel.”

Rendering companies have been under heavy FDA regulations since researchers discovered that their feed products could spread BSE, commonly known as mad-cow disease.

Temple’s toughest customer is the University. Right now, campus dining halls sell their grease to a rendering company.

“UGA with all the dining halls would be a great fit for Greenlight,” Temple said. “Even one dining hall would be crucial. I wish they would just give me some time of day to see if we could just put one on.”
Daniel Geller is a University research engineer who studies biodiesel and other biofuels.

“Unfortunately what drives where this grease goes is the price,” he said. “Believe it or not, there’s a huge demand for feed.”

Geller is working with food services to find a way to convert University grease into biodiesel.

“Tolling it — that’s what it’s called when you give it to someone else and they convert it for you — that makes sense, and we could probably make even or save a little bit of money on the back end,” he said. “I think within a year, we might actually make that happen on campus. I think that would be a really good thing for us.”

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