Tom Leue, a businessman living in Ashfield, Massachusetts, has invented what he calls “yellow heat.” It can allow conversion of oil-burning boilers to run on recycled vegetable oil, which Leue calls “yellow grease.” Since the vegetable oil is from plants raised as crops, burning it can come very close to being carbon-neutral, with the only fossil fuels involved being those used to grow and transport the crop and to provide electric power to the boiler. Since the oil has already been used for its intended purpose, his system is rated as being nearly carbon-neutral by the EPA.
Leue’s invention, however, goes a bit beyond being potentially carbon-neutral in some important ways. First, it is almost exquisitely simple to convert most conventional oil burners to use it. Second, it is almost exquisitely simple to convert used vegetable oil to be used as fuel. Finally, it uses oil so inexpensive that it can be very cost-effective.
What Leue invented is a variation on the Babington principle. Instead of oil being run though a nozzle, it is allowed to drip onto a ball with a slightly pitted surface and blown into a mist by a jet of air. This means that there is virtually no restriction on the type of oil used, as long as it has the correct chemical characteristics. Fuel oil could be used and would work fine, if the user is willing to put up with the environmental and economic costs involved. But, so would the dark, overworked oil in the bottom of an overworked fryer at the end of the day.
Preparing vegetable oil for use as fuel has historically been done in two ways. It could be filtered to remove all unwanted materials, from pieces of breading to tiny particulates, and then fed into a specially adapted burner or engine. On the other hand, it could be converted into a substance more like diesel or home heating oil through a chemical process using other feedstocks in addition to vegetable oil and producing chemical wastes, for use in a conventional engine.
Yellow heat allows use of rather dirty fuel, filtered to eliminate French fries and bits of tempura. It need not be otherwise altered, because the system with the ball and air jet is very hard, or even impossible, to clog.
Yellow heat is pretty much ideal for certain kinds of restaurants, where vegetable oil us widely used for frying. At the end of the day, such a restaurant is very likely to have a fair amount of used oil to get rid of. A dealer in waste oil might pick up such waste oil and actually pay for it, but not much. Leue said the price of such oil is generally less than 30¢ per gallon. Instead of the meager amount of money, the owner of the restaurant can use the scrap oil to replace expensive fuel oil.
Leue has a program under which oil is collected from restaurants, filtered, and sold to customers. He has guaranteed that the price will be at least $1 per gallon below that of home heating oil. The program operates for customers in the Ashfield, MA area only and has limited availability, however.
There are other advantages in using vegetable oil as fuel. One of these is its relative lack of danger in the case of a spill. Used vegetable oil is a biological product, and in some parts of the world can be sold for human consumption. Leue said, “It might attract mice, but that is not an environmental danger.” By contrast, if home heating oil is spilled, it needs to be cleaned up, and that can cost a lot of money.
Tom Leue can be reached at (413) 628-4533 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The Yellow Heat website is www.yellowheat.com.