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Cooking Oil will Soon Power Guantanamo Trucks and Buses

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS071220-25
Release Date: 12/20/2007 2:50:00 PM

By Army Sgt. Sarah Stannard, Joint Task Force Guantanamo Public Affairs

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba (NNS) -- A century ago, Henry Ford ran his first car on ethyl alcohol and Rudolf Diesel fired his single piston engine on peanut oil. Both manufacturers realized quickly that the vegetable oil they were powering their motors with held far less bang for the buck than "rock oil" that required minimal refining and was comparatively inexpensive.

Fossil fuels soon left fodder fuel in the dust. In the last several years of high oil anxiety, the U.S. has looked again at the potential of homegrown gasoline.

It wasn't until the first years of this century that the old bootlegger's friends – corn and still – staged a major comeback, providing additives to gasoline blends which promised to make motor-vehicle emissions less polluting. The federal government is now providing subsidies to industries seeking to develop and market these cleaner burning fuels.

Many lawmakers are concerned that the domestic oil supply is in jeopardy and have passed legislation requiring that 7.5 billion gallons of fuel consumed by the U.S. come from ethanol or biodiesel by 2012.

Guantanamo Bay's Environmental Department is not waiting around for federal requirements to catch up with them. The Naval station recently purchased a biodiesel processor that converts cooking oil and grease into a fuel source.

Fred Burns, formerly the environmental program director here, said his former department is collecting approximately 1,500 gallons of used grease and cooking oil per month from the local restaurants, galleys and barracks buildings to create a clean-burning fuel source that can eventually make the base's diesel-burning vehicles carbon neutral.

The carbons in biofuel are captured from the atmosphere by plants during the growing season, when burned leave fewer unburned hydrocarbons. The carbons found in fossil fuels that are trapped eons ago leave substantially more unburned hydrocarbons and consequently drive up the global thermostat when burned. Stringent tests required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for certification of fuels, demonstrate effectively that biodiesel-burning engines leave substantially fewer unburned hydrocarbons, and hence cause less air pollution.

A 1998 biodiesel lifecycle study sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture concluded because of biofuel's closed carbon cycle, carbon dioxide emissions could be reduced by 78 percent compared with petroleum-based products. Veggie fuels also decrease levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and nitrited PAH compounds, both identified carcinogens.

Biodiesel is the only alternative fuel to have fully completed the health effects testing requirements of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments and results in a noticeably less offensive exhaust odor – often compared to the smell of french fries.

Methanol and sodium hydroxide are added to the biodiesel conversion process. They act as catalysts to separate waste material, such as food particles from the biodiesel. These chemicals are expensive, but sodium hydroxide discarded from Guantanamo's desalinization plant already makes pH adjustments to the drinking water and has a large enough supply to power for the next several years.

Commercial retailers can produce biodiesel fuel at approximately 60 cents per gallon with a blend of fossil fuel and five to 20 percent cooking oil. The Environmental Department in Guantanamo is looking to mirror this model by mixing the biofuel they create with regular diesel in similar proportions, Burns said.

Prior to this project, all cooking oil was typically discarded in the naval station's landfill. Starting Nov. 1 residents can save their used cooking oil in clean containers, like the oil's original bottles, and deposit them in their recycle bins for collection.

For more news from Joint Task Force Guantanamo, visit www.navy.mil/local/jtfgtmo/.

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