Plant to turn waste vegetable oil into fuel
BY CHRIS DIXON
The Post and Courier
The Lowcountry's first biodiesel plant will be built in an unused
warehouse on the former Navy base, creating a local source of nontoxic,
low-cost fuel that can be used in nearly any diesel engine and marking
a further advance in what's been a largely backyard industry in South
While one biodiesel plant already is being operated in the Upstate by
Carolina Biofuels, the North Charleston plant will be unique in that it
will use waste vegetable oil from hundreds of area restaurants to
eventually fill the tanks of school buses, automobiles, trucks and even
The lease agreement was signed Thursday between the Noisette Co. and
Charleston-based Southeast Biodiesel. Plant owner Dean Schmelter, who
owns several chemical processing businesses throughout the Southeast,
said the idea for the Noisette plant came about accidentally.
"Last summer I was talking to my diesel mechanic at Black Forest
Imports in Mount Pleasant," he said. "I was complaining about the high
cost of fuel, and he said, 'Well, you're a chemist. Do something about
Schmelter set up a small-scale operation at one of his Florida
facilities. There, he perfected the process for making the fuel. He now
runs his Mercedes turbo diesel on B100, or 100 biodiesel.
Rudolph Diesel, founder of the diesel engine, originally created his
spark plug-free motor so that farmers could power their tractors with
oil from plants they grew. Nearly any diesel engine built today will
run on straight vegetable oil, but the fuel system must be modified to
heat the oil so it flows smoothly. This process is unnecessary with
To make biodiesel, waste vegetable oil must be filtered and de-watered.
It then goes through a process that utilizes methanol and lye to remove
fats that could clog fuel injection systems. The process leaves behind
the fuel and glycerin, a key ingredient in soap. "I like the EPA's
line," said Schmelter, "It's more biodegradeable than sugar and less
toxic than salt. It looks and smells just like the vegetable oil in
Schmelter said he hopes to begin annual production this fall of about 2
million gallons, with an ability to ramp up with relative ease. The
plant will employ about seven people initially and its fuel should cost
about a dollar a gallon.
Fuel should begin to flow right around the time that the South Carolina
has mandated that all the state's diesel engines, including notoriously
pollution-belching school buses, begin operating on B20, a mix of 20
percent biodiesel and 80 percent petroleum diesel.
Biodiesel provides a substantial emissions benefit whether used as B20
or B100. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, B100
produces 67 percent fewer unburned hydrocarbons, 48 percent less carbon
monoxide and 47 percent less particulate matter. At a 20 percent
mixture, the reductions are 20, 12 and 12 percent respectively.
The combustion of biodiesel also results in about 10 percent lower
emissions of carbon dioxide or CO2 - a greenhouse gas. If vegetation
used to make the fuel oil is replanted, then B100 produces almost no
greenhouse emissions because plants take in CO2 and give off oxygen
James Peeler, a machine shop owner from Gray Court has been making
biodiesel and working on a pilot program for school buses in his area.
"With oil from their school cafeterias and prisons, I can make
biodiesel for $1.50 a gallon," he said, adding that he sees biodiesel
as a means to keep Carolina farmers on their land and wean the United
States off of foreign oil. This week, he used his homemade fuel to
drive his Ford F-350 Diesel pickup truck and fifth-wheel recreational
vehicle from Laurens to James Island for a family vacation. He said the
truck runs better on biodiesel, and gets better mileage.
"I don't mind paying taxes, but I really don't like paying Exxon for
fuel," he said. "When someone starts gouging my back pocket, I start
looking for another way."
Like ethanol gasoline blends, which can be made from locally produced
corn, biodiesel has been getting noticed by state politicians.
Last week, legislators passed a bill that includes tax credits for new
ethanol or biodiesel facilities. Plants that begin operations between
2007 and 2009 will earn tax credits of 20 cents per gallon, and 25
percent on the cost of equipment and distribution. Additionally,
purchasers of E85 (85 percent ethanol, 15 percent gasoline) or B20 will
get a five-cent-per-gallon discount at the pump.
At the Noisette Co., project manager Jeff Baxter said that the new
plant will mesh well with the nearby Fisher recycling plant and
Noisette's overall ambition of creating a sustainable community by
supplying a renewable fuel.
"You'll have the Dodge diesel Sprinter vans manufactured up here, along
with the maritime industry and all the local trucking that can run on
biodiesel," he said. "There are a lot of people here who could use this