[identity profile] ikkeikke.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] dhlc
I found this really interesting because he's not using biodiesel, he's just using the oil straight.

Cultivating a frying plan
By Harold Brubaker
Inquirer Staff Writer
4 January 2006
The Philadelphia Inquirer
(c) Copyright 2006, The Philadelphia Inquirer. All Rights Reserved.

Glenn Brendle practices unconventional farming.

He is small, farming just seven acres. He farms without the aid of synthetic chemicals. And he strives to be self-sustainable.

"Basically, I'm cheap," said Brendle, whose Green Meadow Farm near Gap, Lancaster County, supplies nearly 30 Philadelphia restaurants, such as Grass Roots Cafe in Manayunk, Abraccio Restaurant in West Philadelphia, and Farmacia in Old City.

That parsimonious streak sent him looking for a way to cut a huge expense his business faces each year, but this year more than ever: heating greenhouses during the winter.

He found the solution in a heating system he devised to burn used fryer oil his restaurant customers paid waste companies to haul away.

Now, even in the bitter cold, Brendle's two largest greenhouses have the warm, green glow of a summer's day - without relying on high-priced fossil fuel. Recent crops included snow pea shoots, nasturtium blossoms, and bull's blood beets.

"These are all things you couldn't begin to grow if you had to pay for heat," said Brendle, 61, who has been at the forefront of the Philadelphia region's local food movement since the early 1980s and who now has average weekly sales of $6,000 to $7,000.

High energy prices are forcing farmers to find creative ways to save money. The cost of propane, the fuel typically used to heat greenhouses, has soared by 46 percent over the last 12 months to $2.30 a gallon excluding taxes, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Farmers have been especially hard hit. Keith Oellig, president of the Dauphin County Farm Bureau, told a U.S. House of Representatives committee in November that soaring natural-gas prices caused the price of nitrogen fertilizer to rise to $190 a ton in 2005 from $105 a ton in 2002.

Brendle, who escapes those costs by not using synthetic fertilizer, said he doesn't know exactly how much he saves by burning 40 to 50 gallons of used fryer oil a day during cold weather. But it can easily run into hundreds of dollars a week.

During cold snaps - like the one that hit the Philadelphia region in mid-December - Brendle spends $100 a week on propane to heat his smallest, 600-square-foot greenhouse, which is one-quarter the size of the largest.

Brendle built his 400,000-BTU heating system at a cost of $12,000 from slightly modified commercially available parts, including a crankcase-oil burner and a boiler that could also burn wood. Underground pipes transport hot water from the furnace shed to the greenhouses and to his stone farmhouse.

"Something seems really right about it," said Brendle, as he watched his son Ian and Andrew Speck, an employee, unload a truckload of 100 five-gallon containers of used oil collected from 20 Philadelphia restaurants.

Some of the oil, which jells in cold weather, was still in a liquid state, so it could be poured into 55-gallon drums in the furnace shed, where the breading and other contaminants settle out in three or four stages.

After settling, the oil goes through two filters before being heated to 180 degrees so it vaporizes through the fuel injectors. Vegetable oil burns more cleanly than fossil fuels because it does not contain sulfur and other pollutants.

Area restaurants that supply Brendle with the oil have an incentive to help out. If Brendle didn't take the waste oil, restaurants would have to pay $25 to $30 to get rid of a 55-gallon drum, said John Bellardine, Philadelphia area supervisor for Darling International Inc., which processes the used oil into commodities for industry. Restaurants pay about $25 for a five-gallon container of fry oil, said Duane Ball, an owner of Abbraccio.

Some think Brendle is off track. The biodiesel industry, which processes soybeans and other oil crops for fuel, advises against the use of raw vegetable oil for fuel because it might cause equipment failure, said Karen Edwards, spokeswoman for the National Biodiesel Board. "We certainly know that people are doing this, but we can't stand behind it," she said.

Because straight vegetable oil is so easy to use, Brendle has little interest in biodiesel.

Heating with fryer oil is just one way Brendle sets himself apart from conventional farming. "You have to think of yourself as a guerrilla farmer," he said. "You have to be right on top of it to see where you can make money growing food."

An electrical engineer by training, Brendle appreciates closed circuits where very little goes to waste. He aims for that sort of sustainability on his farm.

For example, he saves seeds for 75 percent of his crops. He gets things he cannot supply himself, such as composted chicken manure for fertilizer, from nearby farms.

Brendle is a fanatical recycler. Empty metal oil containers go to an Amish farmer who turns them into drawers. Used plastic containers are used as planters hung from the greenhouse roof with tomato vines trailing down toward the brown earth. He gives the dregs that settle out of the oil to an Amish farmer in Soudersburg, who uses them to pave his long driveway.

As well as his system works, Brendle is not banking on the free fuel forever.

One of his customers, Greg Salisbury of Rx in University City and Django in Queen Village said he is looking for a used diesel van for his catering business so he can use the fryer oil himself instead of giving it to Brendle.

If a market develops for the used oil, "it's to everybody's benefit, really" because it will mean less waste and less fossil-fuel consumption, he said.

And Brendle will adjust. He said: "We're dodgers and weavers."

Contact staff writer Harold Brubaker at 215-854-4651 or hbrubaker@phillynews.com.

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