A Danbury company is betting that a new type of biodiesel could be the answer when it comes to finding a cleaner, more efficient and more effective fuel source.
In fact, so confident is Preferred Utilities Manufacturing Corp. in bio-residual oil (BRO) that it is using it to power its entire 50,000-square-foot plant this winter.
BRO — produced from vegetable grease and animal fat, both considered renewable products — is not the first time that Preferred has worked to popularize a renewable, carbon-efficient fuel: about four years ago it was tasked with creating a “liquid wood” burner system for Canadian biocrude producer Ensyn Corp.
Preferred President and CEO David Bohn said that, after being approached at a conference by Ames, Iowa-based Renewable Energy Group (REG) about a year ago, he agreed to “basically do research and development for them.”
REG maintains that BRO produces up to 135,000 BTUs per gallon, a higher BTU value than coal or wood-fiber material, with approximately 100 to 125 percent more energy per pound than wood chips or pellets; that it burns cleaner by creating less particulate matter and significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions compared to alternative fuels. REG’s BRO has the lowest carbon intensity of any commercially available liquid fuel, it says, and that by being manufactured from plentiful recycled fats and oils such as used cooking oil, inedible corn oil, animal fat and other vegetable oils, it’s both affordable and environmentally preferable.
Bohn added that BRO produces less carbon dioxide than does natural gas, and that it is less expensive and has fewer carbon emissions than No. 2 oil, commonly used in a number of energy- and fuel-related applications.
“We’ve developed a burner system that burns BRO down cleanly and at very low temperatures — around 160 degrees Fahrenheit,” Bohn said. “Brookhaven National Lab (the U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory in Upton, New York) had to burn it at 211 to 215 degrees Fahrenheit when they were testing it a couple of years ago.”
Preferred — whose products include fuel oil handling systems and components, boiler instrumentation and controllers, high-quality burners and nuclear power plant outage reduction tools and component parts — has already done chemical tests on BRO to confirm that it is not corrosive, Bohn said. One of its challenges now is to determine how best to store it during the summer months, as well as to confirm the various claims that REG makes for it.
Determining how BRO, which is not a petroleum product, reacts in situations that petroleum products normally face is key, he emphasized.
As the use of heavier heating oils like No. 4 and No. 6 — viscous, more environmentally harmful distillate and residual fuel oils that remain after lighter fuel oils and lighter hydrocarbons are distilled away in refinery operations — fall by the wayside, through efforts by several states as well as by the Environmental Protection Agency, both Preferred and REG believe that BRO represents “a promising economic and socioeconomic alternative,” Bohn said.
Preferred is completely prepared to weather the cold months using nothing but BRO, he added — though the company does have its natural gas backup system in place, just in case.
Commercialization of the product could begin within a couple of years.
“We need to be able to fill people in on how to handle it, maintain it, if there are any ill side effects from using it,” Bohn said. “We wouldn’t want to make a big splash with it and then all of a sudden find out that it’s causing gaskets to blow and so forth.”
Not that he’s expecting such outcomes, he said. “We believe there’s a very low bar for us to clear with this.”
Should all go well, Preferred would partner with REG to sell the product, with room for other potential partners, Bohn said.