How a government entity is turning cooking oil into millions of gallons of clean fuel

How a government entity is turning cooking oil into millions of gallons of clean fuel

Monday January 21, 2019,

7 min Read

A new FSSAI initiative will kill three birds with one stone. Not only will it help reduce the country’s oil import bill, but will also prevent toxic cooking oil from being consumed and generate income for sellers of this oil.

Oil, cooking, roadside

For a country that meets more than 80 percent of its fuel needs through imports, India can now generate gallons of its own fuel simply with the help of the samosawaala outside your office. Yes, it’s possible because of a new mechanism, which turns used cooking oil (UCO) into biodiesel and solves several problems in one stroke.

On World Biofuel Day last August the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), in partnership with the Biodiesel Association of India (BDAI), launched Repurpose Used Cooking Oil (RUCO), an ecosystem that enables the collection and conversion of UCO or waste oil to biodiesel. A month earlier, apex food body had laid down regulations to monitor the usage of used cooking oil.

These new regulations limit Total Polar Compounds (TPC) to a maximum of 25 percent. Beyond this point, the cooking oil is deemed to be unsafe for consumption.

The problem of used cooking oil has long plagued India. While it has been blamed for making people sick, most continue to use it because it is cheaper than buying standard cooking oil. The toxicity of TPC is associated with several diseases such as hypertension, cancer, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, liver diseases, high levels of bad cholesterol, etc.

“India needed a mechanism to enforce the new rules, and totally remove waste oil from the food chain in India, and that is how RUCO came into being. While RUCO is an initiative by FSSAI, BDAI is facilitating the initiative across India,” says Sandeep Chaturvedi, President, BDAI.

How RUCO works 

RUCO is a fully tech-enabled mechanism, which runs with minimum human intervention. It has two apps - one for a food business owner or ‘discharger’ to request for a pickup of the used oil, and another for drivers who get pickup requests in the vicinity.

A registered aggregator picks up UCO from dischargers, which include restaurants, Food Business Operators (FBO) and HUBs. These hubs are set up by BDAI, which collects waste cooking oil from household and small street vendors, and hands it over to the aggregators.

Presently, as many as 64 companies, 200 aggregators, 350 hubs and some 26 plants initiatives in 101 locations across the length and breadth of the nation are working together to enable the collection and conversion of UCO.

After collecting the UCO in their region, the aggregators hail a pickup request on the RUCO app, just like you would hail a cab. Then, a nearby RUCO GPS-enabled vehicle equipped with smart measurements of weight, a TPC calculator and digital payments picks up the oil and delivers it to the companies that converts the waste cooking oil into biodiesel.

Sandeep says that these companies are a mix of public and private and are members of BDAI. For instance, Bengaluru-based ECO Green Fuels is currently converting about 1,200 tonnes of UCO to biodiesel annually. Another company in Delhi-NCR, BioD Energy has a plant that produces 100 tonnes per day in Bawal, Haryana. Kaleesuwari Refinery has a biodiesel plant and is in the process of rolling out the conversion mechanism. Further, an Austrian company has also set up a collection system in Mumbai.

The biodiesel is disseminated to fuel companies as per government standards to blend it accordingly with the fuel, said Sandeep.

According to Sandeep, RUCO is India’s first such effort to collect and process used cooking oil, and through a completely open and transparent tracking system, it is being ensured that this used oil is never processed back into food products for human use, and that the whole process has no scope for corruption.

RUCO is equipped with technological support such as GPS, traffic monitoring, mobile apps, Unified Payment Interface, a toll-free number and a web-based IT solution for complete end-to-end traceability.

The app keeps the process transparent using receipts, and details of dispatch, stock and handling/processing of losses. This helps RUCO get a clear view of how much UCO has been sold by the FBOs and how much of it has been converted to biodiesel by the manufacturing plant.

What typically happens to used cooking oil? 

Sandeep says that as of now, used cooking oil is either not discarded at all or is disposed of in an environmentally hazardous manner. Sometimes, it even finds its way to smaller restaurants, dhabas and street vendors, which is hazardous for health.

According to FSSAI data, India consumes 225 lakh tons of vegetable oil, and about 40 percent is consumed by restaurants/mega kitchens and processed food industry. Another 30 percent gets discarded as UCO on low rates, which are mostly bought by street vendors and small restaurants.

How this problem will solve another

The initiative will give India millions of gallons of biodiesel, which will not only protect the environment and the poor who typically end up consuming this toxic used cooking oil, but will also generate savings made on foreign exchange, says Sandeep.

“This process will help us assure that Used Cooking Oil does not enter the food chain and that sellers get a reasonable value for it. It also aimed at creating awareness about healthy eating and repurposing UCO to make biodiesel, which is a clean fuel,” he adds.

The clean fuel, which is suitable for road, marine and air transportation use, also provides a high-energy, high-quality transportation fuel that, when burned, is responsible for 90 percent less carbon dioxide emissions than the same amount of traditional diesel fuel.

Not only does RUCO’s mechanism save the environment and keeps the food-chain healthy, but it also gives a chance to food business owners to earn from the waste oil as anyone who gives their waste oil to BDAI, gets Rs 30 per kg.

Additionally, a food business owner gets an emblem, downloadable from the app, for their outlet to showcase that the eatery uses cooking oil as per the government’s advised standards, says Sandeep.

According to FSSAI, India is the world’s biggest consumer of cooking oil. This also means that the country generates millions of tonnes of waste oil every year. Sandeep says that 10 litres of oil with TPC of 25 percent or below can generate 9 litres of clean fuel. However, it depends on the quality of UCO collected from the vendors. “The fuel recovery rate is mostly between 70 percent and 90 percent,” he adds.

Sandeep claims that so far, two lakh litres of waste oil has been collected, and approximately 180 litres of biodiesel has been produced through this initiative. FSSAI claims that India has the potential to recover 220 crore litres of Used Cooking Oil (UCO) for the production of biodiesel by the year 2022 through coordinated action.

At the time of RUCO’s launch, the collection was 47,126 litres from Gujarat, 2,06,200 litres from Delhi-NCR, 43,000 litres from Mumbai, and some 11,000 litres from Bengaluru. Sandeep says that the app gets requests from places like Rajkot, Valsad, Ahmedabad, Baroda, Nadiad now.

Among big brands, McDonald’s in India is already converting its used cooking oil to biodiesel from 100 outlets in Mumbai and Pune to date.

RUCO is currently active Gujarat, Delhi-NCR, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Mumbai and Bengaluru. Sandeep says that even though the initiative started from large-scale restaurants, it is now gradually moving towards medium and small-scale restaurants.

Also read: Indian Air Force gets eco-friendly as it tests out biofuel-blended aviation turbine fuel