Making money out of used cooking oil

KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama): When you are done with deep-frying meat, chicken or fish at home, hold on before pouring the used cooking oil down the sink.

Used cooking oil can be recycled to make soap, lubricants, candles, animal and pet feed as well as renewable energy.

Mohd Rosdi Abu Bakar, 48, an electronics factory worker from Butterworth, picked up the trade of selling used cooking oil from friends, some of whom have gained a foothold in the business over the past 20 years.

"It has been six months since I started this business to supplement my income. I usually collect the used cooking from my customers every Sunday," he told Bernama when contacted recently.

To his surprise, Rosdi found that despite operating part time, his small enterprise has yielded returns, bringing him a monthly income of RM3,000.

He said he collects about a tonne of used cooking oil monthly from his customers and resells them to Airil Global Resources, a company based in Kulim, Kedah.

Relating his experience in the used cooking oil trade, Mohd Rosdi said he secured his business through customers who were interested to sell their used cooking oil via Facebook.

"Many have contacted me and asked whether they could actually sell used cooking oil. Not many people know that their used cooking oil has its uses and can be resold.

"I personally go over to my customers' houses to pick up the used cooking oil. So far, my customers are mostly housewives, restaurant operators as well as food and pasar malam traders," he said, adding that they were mainly from Penang, Sungai Petani and Padang Serai, Kedah.

According to the Terengganu-born entrepreneur, his customers are paid RM1.50 per kg of used cooking oil (up to 49kg), RM1.60 for 50kg to 99kg and RM1.80 for more than 100kg.

The father of five was confident that he would be able to provide a good life for his family, adding that his target is to secure 100 traders as his anchor customers.

The target will enable him to rake in a monthly income of up to RM9,000 and once this is realised, Mohd Rosdi said, he hopes to focus fully on the business.

Lack of awareness

There are many factors why some are not aware of the benefits of used cooking oil. Among others are the lack of promotion and exposure to target groups such as housewives and operators of food outlets.

According to Dr Mohd Yusoff Ishak, a senior lecturer at the Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) Forestry and Environment faculty, the cheap purchase price of used cooking oil has made it unpalatable to the public.

"For example, the purchase price of used cooking oil which is offered at around RM1 per kg may not be attractive to the public.

"In addition, the support system and facilities for those who intend to venture into the business are not up to the mark.

"This includes the lack of standardisation in terms of recycling operations which are still perceived as activities that are small and cheap in nature," he said.

To ensure quality biodiesel, he said, there are standards for testing the fuel properly to see that it meets specifications for use.

ASTM International (formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials), an international standards and testing group, has a method to legally define biodiesel for use in diesel engines, labelled ASTM D6751.

"This is one of the reasons why not many industry players are bold enough to venture into this business in a transparent manner," he told Bernama.

However, he said, the process of converting used cooking oil to biodiesel has now been made simpler with the latest advances in technology, drawing new players to jump on the bandwagon.

Source of biodiesel

Used cooking oil is one of the major sources of biodiesel.

According to Yusoff, used cooking oil is usually collected and filtered through several stages before going through a chemical process to be converted into fuel for vehicles or biodiesel.

"The used cooking oil is converted into biodiesel by the means of a chemical reaction called transesterification, which can be performed using a variety of catalysts including basic, acidic, and enzymatic.

"These catalysts can also be categorised as homogeneous or heterogeneous.

"The process of converting used cooking oil into biodiesel involves different levels of complexity, cost and energy consumption," he said.

Meanwhile, research conducted by UPM has succeeded in turning cooking oil into biodiesel for use by heavy machinery and vehicles.

Yusoff said a team of UPM researchers from the Faculty of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences took about five years to produce the biodiesel.

"Diesel-run engines do not require modification in order to use biodiesel because only 10% of biodiesel is needed to be mixed with 90% pure diesel (B10) before it can be used," he said.

He said members of the public can sell their used cooking oil at a pilot plant at UPM Serdang campus for RM1 per kg.

"Generally, the processing of 100 litres of used cooking oil, which takes about six hours, will produce 90 litres of biodiesel and 10 litres of glycerol," he said.

Trash to Cash programme

In creating awareness among the people, all parties should play their role in ensuring that used cooking oil is not poured into kitchen sinks and drains.

Oils that are poured down drains can clog up pipes, cause drains and sewers to stink from bacterial growth and interrupt wastewater treatment services.

Towards this end, NKH Bio Solution, a Bangi-based company which buys used cooking oil from the public, has launched a "Trash to Cash" awareness programme in collaboration with several joint management bodies (JMB).

NKH sales executive Rozaimi Salleh told Bernama that the Trash to Cash programme organised by the Residence Puchongmas JMB allowed residents to sell their used cooking oil directly to the company.

"For the programme, we have fixed a suitable date to collect the used oil from residents. The price of 1kg of used cooking oil is RM2.50 and we pay direct to the residents," he said.

The campaign is aimed at creating a better environment and healthier lifestyles for the public by providing the residents with a convenient way to dispose of the used cooking oil.

According to Rozaimi, the used cooking oil collected will be sold to certified contractors. The company collects about 140 tonnes of used cooking oil monthly, covering Selangor, Terengganu, Perlis, Penang and Johor.

He said all used cooking oil collected will be processed into biodiesel and exported to countries in Europe, including, among others, the United Kingdom and France.

Rozaimi said the level of awareness among the people would greatly depend on the individual's level of understanding on safe cooking oil consumption for the household.

"There is a higher awareness among city dwellers who are more exposed to the campaign on the use of safe cooking oil consumption and recycling practices of used cooking oil for biodiesel.

"However, awareness among traders on safe consumption of cooking oil is rather low, either in urban or rural areas.

"This poses health risks to buyers who buy food that is fried or cooked with excess oil. Hence, such campaigns should be conducted among traders.

"Not all food handlers and consumers understand the roles they must play, such as adopting basic hygienic practices when buying, selling and preparing food to protect their health and that of the wider community," he lamented. - Bernama

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