Health News Digest

December 19, 2005

As Close as Your Neighborhood Restaurant: Biofuel That Workssaving cooking oil

By  Michael D. Shaw

The influence of politics and the mainstream media being what they are, many lines in these columns are necessarily devoted to debunking misconceptions and conventional wisdom about the environment, and exactly what is environmentally responsible. As such, it is always a pleasure to give some ink to enviro good guys, and good ideas.

Wonder of wonders, this one is actually from inside the Beltway, but it’s not from the Government, or even a large enterprise at all.

Smart Fuel is the brainchild of some current and former students of American University and George Washington University, and it won first place in the 2nd Annual University Socially Responsible Business Plan Competition—sponsored by the William James Foundation.

The idea of Smart Fuel is to produce and sell biodiesel, a non-toxic, vegetable oil-based fuel that can be used in any diesel engine. The source of this biodiesel is restaurant waste oil, that only requires a minor processing. It is then sold to school districts, bus companies, and eventually other end-users. The employment of inner-city youths, both in the collecting of the oil, processing, and delivery to the customer is to be encouraged. The biodiesel will be competitively priced, and affords several advantages over conventional diesel fuel.

Importantly, this source of biodiesel, unlike previous misguided efforts, will not ravage the rain forest. Typically, the waste oil-based product is mixed with a small amount of either methanol or ethanol to form the final biofuel mix.

Although there is nothing novel in recycling waste oil from restaurants per se, the use of it as a fuel, rather than its current destination of getting back into the food chain, is the big difference here. Few would disagree that its new life as fuel is preferable to reappearing in your next meal!

Beyond the obvious “Green” benefits of Smart Fuel, this plan provides real social advantages. Anything that helps inner-city students make a positive contribution to the community—and earn some money—is worthy of support. And, as local businesses purchase biodiesel from this outlet, they are doing their part—effortlessly—to improve the environment.

In Green circles, the notions of sustainable development and sustainable communities are highly-touted. The lofty goals include the principle that humanity should strive to develop the economy in a manner that does not damage the integrity of ecosystems and social well-being. In other words, its advocates would say, sustainability is about working toward a better life for all people for today and for the future.

Far too often, though, these ideals become mere inspirations for demonstrations against the established order. Mostly, these demonstrations are short on specific, viable policy recommendations and are long on overblown rhetoric. But then, it’s always easier to complain, than to offer viable alternatives.

How refreshing to see a truly community-based program that works.

We COULD ask ourselves how a group of underfunded students could come up with such a good and simple idea, and compare it to countless expensive misfires of our Leaders. Except that now is not the time, since ’tis the season to be jolly.

Kudos to the smart ones behind Smart Fuel.