By Jan Tenbruggencate

The cooking oil-based diesel fuel business is slowly but steadily growing in Hawaii. Pacific Biodiesel, which converts used restaurant and hotel cooking oil into a fuel that burns cleanly in diesel engines, produces 10,000 gallons a month. The most recent client, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, has purchased 18,000 gallons and is switching park vehicles to the product as part of a U.S. Department of Energy program. The traditional disposal technique for used cooking oils is at a landfill, and landfills don’t much like the stuff. Pacific Biodiesel four years ago set up its processing plant at the central Maui landfill. Its first and largest client is the Kauai-based Na Pali Eco Adventure firm, which runs boat tours in catamarans fueled entirely by biodiesel. Pacific Biodiesel executive Larry Zolezzi said the company buys used oil from the Big Island, Maui and Kauai, and with the new park contract, has clients on the same three islands. The company heats and filters the cooking oil–generally, fryer oils consisting of soy and other vegetable oils– and then uses a chemical reaction to remove the natural glycerine. The glycerine is composted , but it could have a resale potential in the future, he said. The existing processing plant is operating near capacity. “The next step for us is to expand the plant,” he said. Biodiesel fuel can run any diesel engine. No engine modifications are needed, but some rubber hoses may need to changed. Vehicles can switch back and forth seamlessly between fossil-based diesel and biodiesel and can mix the fuels. The company claims biodiesel reduces dangerous engine emissions. It has a higher flash point the petroleum diesel, is classified as non flammable and does not need to be treated as a hazardous material when shipped. “The most likely use of biodiesel will be in certain niche markets that require a cleaner-burning biodegradable fuel,” says the company Web site, . Zolezzi said the company’s price for fuel in off-road vehicles and generators is $1.95 a gallon and for on-road use $2.45 a gallon to account for transportation taxes. He said off-Maui users also pay for transport of the fuel, which is done in 250-gallon plastic drums. The total cost to the Park Service on Hawaii ends up close to $3 a gallon, he said. One of the big advantages for those who work around diesel engines is the smell, Zolezzi said. Biodiesel exhaust smells like the exhaust from a fast-food restaurant instead of the back end of a standard diesel fueled bus.