Biotech Industry Goes Fishing To Find New Auto Fuel

By Terrence Sing
Pacific Business News

Robert King’s Bio Beetle got its first sip of fuel made from 100 percent fish oil last week.

King’s 2001 Volkswagen bug is proof that biodiesel fuels made from recycled cooking oil can be a viable nonpolluting fuel source. And now the science that turns vegetable oil into fuel can do the same with fish. Representatives from the Alaska Energy Authority were in town last week to meet with King, whose Maui-based Pacific Biodiesel plant converts cooking oil into clean-burning fuel for diesel engines. The authority is part of the Pacific Regional Biomass Energy Program. The Alaskan fish-processing industry generates some 3.5 million gallons of fish-oil byproduct that’s discarded as waste each year. Authorities would like to be able to turn that into a viable clean-energy source. Pacific Biodiesel is converting 5,000 pounds of Alaskan fish oil into biodiesel from the Alaska Energy Authority for a pilot project funded in part by the U.S. Department of Energy. The authority is trying to gain insight into how well raw fish oil works for biodiesel, which is well-established nationwide as a viable fuel source. This is probably the first time fish oil is being tried as a fuel source, said Peter Crimp, project manager with the Alaska Energy Authority. The Bio Beetle was filled with fuel created from fish oil on two consecutive days. “It appears to work just fine,” Crimp said.

Pacific Biodiesel’s portion of the job should be done within a week, after which the biodiesel will go to the University of Fairbanks’ Arctic Energy Technology Development Laboratory. There it will be run through a series of tests, which may include tests in a Detroit diesel generator in Fairbanks sometime this spring. The results will be shared with Pacific Biodiesel and state and federal energy officials.

“We are particularly interested in using it for diesel generators in our remote communities,” Crimp said. “We also see opportunities for using it in fishing boats and possibly land transportation if it appears suitable.”

The project is expected to be complete by July. Afterward, a number of different scenarios could then unfold, one of which is a biodiesel processing plant in Alaska that could be built by Pacific Biodiesel. The Alaska Energy Authority first wants to see test results. Pacific Biotech, considered an authority on bio-diesel fuel, offers two basic plant configurations. King started Pacific Biodiesel in 1996 to solve the problem of restaurant grease clogging the Maui landfill. The Maui plant can produce up to 200,000 gallons of biodiesel fuel annually. There also is a sister plant in Honolulu with twice the capacity. The company has built a biodiesel plant for a client in Japan who runs a chain of 60 Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants and recently completed a plant in Virginia. “Rather than take used cooking oil to the landfill we process it into biodiesel,” King said. “There’s no petroleum in it, no actual diesel, but it runs diesel engines with no modifications. You just put it in the tank and go.”

Rudolf Diesel invented the diesel engine in the late 19th century to run on a variety of fuels, including heavy mineral oil and vegetable oil. His engine has since been modified to run on polluting petroleum fuel.