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Wondered What Happens to Used Cooking Oil? Here’s How It May Soon Fuel a Plane!

What if we told you this used cooking oil (UCO) from your local samosawala could be turned into eco-friendly fuel?

Ever wondered what happens to all the cooking oil the roadside eatery uses to deep fry your snacks?

Most times, after being reused repetitively, it turns acidic and is disposed of, most probably, in a manner harmful for the environment.

But what if we told you this used cooking oil (UCO) from your local samosawala could be turned into eco-friendly fuel?

fuel-india-biofuel-biodiesel-used-cooking-oil
Representational Image. Source: (L) Rohit Saluja / @rohitblog (R) IndiaMart

A government initiative is making that happen.

Promotion

Christened RUCO which stands for Repurpose Used Cooking Oil, the project was launched by the FSSAI in August 2018, in association with the Biodiesel Association of India (BDAI).

This is an ecosystem that enables the collection and conversion of UCO to biodiesel.

This means that with a single move, India can now repurpose gallons of used cooking oil into biodiesel, cut down its fuel imports, reduce carbon emissions and also tackle health issues caused by reused cooking oil–all with just a few on-ground measures.

To facilitate this process of collection and conversion of UCO, FSSAI and BDAI have currently recognised 64 companies, 200 aggregators and some 26 plants in 101 locations.

The Better India got in touch with one such aggregator, Bengaluru-based ECO Green Fuels, to know how this move could spell hope for the country.

The FSSAI claims that India is one of the largest consumers of vegetable oil. It has the potential to convert almost 220 crore litre of Used Cooking Oil (UCO) to produce biodiesel by the year 2022.

ECO Green Fuels was established in 2007, by Julesh Bantia. He reveals how his startup recognised the potential of used cooking oil long before the government did.

Since 2011, the company has successfully converted five million litres of UCO into biodiesel and supplied it for industrial use within and outside Bengaluru. It also played a role in providing its expertise to the government, culminating in the launch of RUCO.

Julesh highlights, “While the concept may seem easy on paper, the challenges of executing on the ground are many. The first of which is sensitising oil dischargers.”

According to recent FSSAI data, of the 225 lakh tons of vegetable oil that the country consumes, 40 per cent is consumed by restaurants/mega kitchens and the processed food industry. The 30 per cent that gets discarded as used cooking oil is sold at a cheaper rate, which is often bought by street vendors and small restaurants.

And so, it is crucial to educate oil dischargers like small restaurants, eateries, food chains and fryer companies (making fried and packaged snacks) about when they need to discharge oil.

According to the recent policy laid down by the FSSAI, this can be measured by the Total Polar Compounds in the oil. Once this goes beyond 25 per cent, the oil turns acidic and is considered unsafe for consumption.

Julesh informs, “For most small-time restaurants, this 25 per cent mark is reached by the time they start making the evening snacks in the reused oil; for commercial frying companies which make packaged snacks, the oil turns acidic at 18 per cent itself. If it is reused for making snacks after that, even the shelf-life of the product gets affected. This can pose a huge risk.”

He continues, “And while many of them follow the parameters of edible oil, several are not aware of the factors that make it inedible. So there is a definite need for sensitisation among those in the food business.”

Repetitively used cooking oil can cause a range of health issues from hypertension, cancer, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, liver diseases to high levels of bad cholesterol.

In light of this, RUCO is a commendable move. When executed on a large scale, it not only removes inedible oil from the food chain but also breathes new life into it by transforming it into eco-friendly fuel.


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How does the model work?

ECO Green has its own vehicle with a driver and two helpers collecting UCO from eateries, hubs and restaurants, which is then converted into biodiesel.

President of BDAI, Sandeep Chaturvedi in an interview with The Times of India, revealed that RUCO has developed an app for Android and iOS users. The food business owner or oil discharger can request for a pick-up of the used cooking oil on this app.

This used oil will be collected by the nearest RUCO GPS-enabled vehicle, which is equipped with smart measurements of weight, a TPC calculator and digital payments, and delivers it to the companies, who then convert the waste cooking oil into biodiesel.

The food business owners earn Rs 30 per kg for the waste oil that they give away under the project.

This app also keeps track of the process end-to-end, enabling RUCO in maintaining a record of how much UCO is being sold by the FBOs and the biodiesel conversion by the manufacturing plant.

In a YourStory interview, Sandeep adds how 10 litres of oil with TPC of 25 per cent or below can generate nine litres of clean fuel. However, it depends on the quality of UCO collected from the vendors, he points out.

“The fuel recovery rate is mostly between 70 per cent and 90 per cent,” he adds.

RUCO is currently running in Gujarat, Delhi-NCR, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Karnataka.

“Currently, Bengaluru has about 10,000 small restaurants. And every restaurant gives away 2 kg of UCO per day, it amounts to 20 tonnes of UCO per day. If regular diesel is sold at Rs 65, this UCO when converted into biodiesel is sold Rs 10 cheaper at Rs 55/litre. When you multiply this by 20 tonnes, the city is still making an income of Rs 11,00,000 a day! If this comes into effect in even in 15 cities, you can imagine the economic growth it can bolster. Regardless of its economic benefits, the switch from diesel to biodiesel can cut down carbon emissions by 85 per cent. There isn’t a better concept to give back to the environment. This is the need of the hour,” signs off Julesh.

Let’s hope that the initiative gathers the required support, helps reduce our dependence on imported crude oil and fossil fuels, safeguards consumer health and helps us embark on the path to a more sustainable India.  

(Edited by Shruti Singhal)

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Written by Jovita Aranha

A lover of people, cats, food, music, books & films. In that order. Binge-watcher of The Office & several other shows. A storyteller on her journey to document extraordinary stories of ordinary people.