Turning the tables on FOG

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The issue of fat oil and grease (FOG) in the sewers is not going to go away – in fact, if you look at predicted population growth, it is only going to increase, especially in cities.  

So, what should we do to manage the problem in the future – and should we now be looking at FOG as a resource rather than waste?

The issue was discussed in depth at our 2019 European FOG Summit, held in Amsterdam in March.

Andrew Bird, lead futurologist, Futurologies Consulting, Canada, provides independent insight, innovation and consulting services to the FOG sector.  Talking at the summit, he explained: “Demographics are changing, people are migrating towards cities, not away from them. The impact on sewer systems is only going to increase. So, there’s always going to be FOG in the system – but can we reprocess it in a different way? Take this stuff and use it as a resource? We have to think that there is an opportunity for this material, and to reposition that thinking to change the game that we’re trying to play.”

And the opportunities are big, said Karyn Georges, head of consulting, Isle Utilities, UK.

Recently, Karyn led a project team to deliver the UK Water Industry Research (UKWIR) project on FOG control and collection. 

The in-depth study concluded that advances in technology mean that FOG could be recovered from almost anywhere and reused to generate income – which has led to Karyn’s team setting a 2030 target of turning all FOG into a source.

She said: “We can collect and recover used cooking oils that people put down the sink or grease interceptor waste. You can also collect from pumping stations – the contaminated, dirty stuff. There is technology in development that’s pretty close to commercialisation. Fatbergs as well – there are companies who can turn that into biodiesel.” 

Her study found you can even recover FOG from wastewater treatment works. “It’s more challenging because of the high water content but you can recover FOG from the inlet point and turn it into biodiesel. Key here is the dewatering of the FOG and making sure the water content is low enough that it’s worthwhile collecting it.

“If you can successfully recover the FOG, you have the potential of generating income, or at the very least, offsetting your costs. There are opportunities around biodiesel, particularly for the transport sector, and also biogas. Biodiesel is very marketable, biogas is very marketable.

“So, by 2030, we want all waste to be turned into a source. We see this as really meaning as collecting all domestic used cooking oil and making sure we can recover all the FOG from across the sewer. 

“By 2050, I would say, we want no uncontrolled discharges into the sewer, i.e no blockages. For this to happen, all food establishments would need to have appropriate grease management and use all that FOG to generate energy. The technology is available for recovery and reuse of FOG, it’s a valuable resource.”  

Oliver Loebel, secretary-general at EurEau, the European federation of national water services, agreed there was “tremendous potential” but stressed it was important to ensure there was a sustainable model to implement the technologies. 

“I think the water sector has a lot to offer in terms of circular cities, circular economies. There are a lot of technologies. The first question is, how can we develop sustainable business models in terms of economics? Do we have a market for it?  Is it environmentally sound? Do we save resources, at the end of the day? And we need cooperation. We cannot bring about change alone. We need partners – municipalities, companies, but also the public. And innovation very clearly. Not only technological but innovators in government and management.”

Someone who is already using technology to do exciting work with FOG is Dirk Kronemeije, who runs a sustainable fuel company. GoodFuels is focussed on creating biofuels for aviation, shipping, and heavy ground transport.

Dirk said: “Who knew that you could actually fly with something not made out of a fossil source, but from straight organic or waste material? We would like to become the sustainable model. That’s our dream.  We are very passionate about sustainability, and we all want to make fuel that is made from pumped oil or food.”

Dirk’s business is fast-growing, even without global legislation around sustainable fuel. 

“If I have to wait for global legislation to kick in, it takes forever. The only thing we can think of that can eventually accelerate the transition is by leveraging all these cargo owners and go to the Heinekens and Ikeas of this world and tell them, ‘Listen, guys, you have a responsibility. Buy the fuel slightly differently and help us change the world’. And it’s growing all over the world.”

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