Greasy Clean

Greasy Clean

New industrial uses for fryer oil.

Using fryer oil from restaurants to make biodiesel for retrofitted Volkswagens is so three years ago. Two Minneapolis firms, Hitek Resources, Inc., and BioForce Services, have formed a partnership to put the gunky stuff to new use in industrial solvents and cleaning products. Their used cleaners can be collected and burned as fuel, too, so each batch of oil gets recycled and repurposed twice.

Hitek cofounders Claudia (a chemist) and Brent Mosher developed a process two years ago for cleaning deep-fryer oil and converting it to a stable bioester. Bioesters can replace their petroleum-based counterparts, which are the building blocks for most cleaning products.

So far, Hitek collects nonhydrogenated vegetable oils from 13 Twin Cities restaurants, including Sawatdee, Kurry Kabab, Sakura, and Heartland Café. There’s no charge to the restaurants, which might otherwise have to pay for collection and disposal. The Moshers expect to have 200 restaurant customers by year’s end.

Brent Mosher notes that the market for used oil is competitive, however. Restaurant chains like McDonald’s or Culver’s sometimes have contracts to sell their oil to producers of livestock feed or biofuels.

BioForce Services uses Hitek’s bioesters to produce about 6,000 gallons a month of cleaning products for the printing industry. BioForce was already in the business of making vegetable-based industrial cleaners and has served as an incubator for Hitek’s technology and product development.

Customers include the Star Tribune, local printers the John Roberts Company and Quebecor, and ink producer Kohl & Madden. Those companies used to clean their presses and other equipment with petroleum-based solvents that had to be hauled off and disposed of as hazardous waste. They now save that expense and have more worker- and environment-friendly operations.

BioForce contracts with local waste-oil hauler OSI to pick up the spent cleaning products from customers. OSI sells the used cleaners as fuel. Customers include several manufacturers who burn it for power generation. Mosher is also talking with District Energy in St. Paul, which might burn the cleaners to generate electricity for downtown buildings, and pump heat that’s produced as a byproduct through some of those same buildings.

“What we really like is that they [would] get two more uses out of it,” Brent Mosher says. He also likes the fact that with many customers, the entire process—collecting oil from restaurants, using it as solvents, and finally burning it for fuel—takes place within a 50-mile radius of Hitek’s Northeast Minneapolis facility.

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Claudia Mosher has been working on new ways that Hitek’s technology can replace petroleum-based products with vegetable oil from restaurants: for instance, in starter fluid for charcoal grills and tiki torch fuel. In August, Brent Mosher said he was negotiating with a 200-store regional hardware retailer interested in carrying Hitek’s consumer products.

So far, he notes, Hitek has been able to do its work on equipment that is entirely (except for one pump) reclaimed and recycled. Mosher bought most of it at auction or found it in dumpsters. Cutting down on consumption is the key to keeping his business and his customers’ competitive, he says: “It’s all about working with companies to change how they use resources.”