The challenge is that cooking oils from different sources contain different types and levels of impurities. LeCaptain is working on ways to separate the impurities from the oil to then refine it into a consistent biodiesel product that can function better in cold temperatures.
“No two restaurants use the same blend,” he says. “The variability is substantial, and the end user needs, wants, and demands a consistent product.”
LeCaptain received a $134,000 grant from the Michigan Universities Commercialization Initiative to demonstrate his technology on a pilot scale. “It should work,” he says. “Whether it makes economic sense, we don’t know yet.”
LeCaptain has paired up with Ag Solutions, a biodiesel company in Gladstone, Michigan. Ag Solutions’ parent company, Van Aire Inc., makes wastewater systems, and through its vendor connections has access to used cooking oil from restaurants and food processing facilities. Ag Solutions officials want to collect the oil and use LeCaptain’s technology to turn it into biodiesel.
“They’re ready to start producing,” LeCaptain says. “The grant is the step between. It’s at such an experimental level, it needs development time and development money.”
Pat Cleveland, general manager for Ag Solutions, says he’s hopeful about LeCaptain’s results.
“It would be a landmark solution, for sure,” he says. “We’re very excited by it. There are others across the country working on this, and so far, nobody’s really come up with a process that’s economical.”
• By Barbara Sutherland Chovanec