The city’s new biodiesel plant was paid for by a $208,000 grant from the $3.2 billion Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program, under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Energy, meant to “deploy the cheapest, cleanest and most reliable energy technologies we have,” according to the department’s website.
City spokeswoman Jennifer Bennett said the plant does just that.
“Biodiesel cleans the fuel lines. It runs and burns cleaner. It extends the life of the vehicle. It’s easier on the engines and creates a whole lot less pollution,” she said.
Biodiesel also relieves sanitation and stormwater staffs and budgets by keeping fats, oil and grease out of the pipeline, said Ann Kirk, director of the city’s Keep Smyrna Beautiful campaign.
Not to mention it saves money, beginning with shaving off $1.20 or more per gallon of diesel, which has prices hovering around $4 in metro Atlanta.
The F-450 and F-550 pickup trucks used by the water and sewer departments and for trash pickup do not need retrofitting beyond a $10 fuel filter to use the biodiesel.
Nor will the city need to hire anyone to run the conversion plant. Fleet manager Mark Breugh and Public Works Assistant Director Frank Martin can operate the machinery bought from Tecumseh, Kan.-based Alternative Energy Systems Integrated Solutions, and they in turn will train other existing staff members in the process.
The city has a ready supply of raw materials: Residents and restaurants can donate used cooking oil at seven collection stations around the city, which also dispense empty plastic jugs.
“You can pick up a container at any location,” Kirk said. “Return it to the cage, leave it curbside or bring it to the recycling center. Swap it out just like a propane tank.”
The city notified residents of the collection efforts by social media and its online newsletter, which helped stockpile 400 gallons of oil before the plant went online Nov. 28.
“The Saturday after Thanksgiving, we got 22 gallons of oil,” Kirk said.
Public Works director Scott Stokes said the city began filling up the eight 250-gallon holding tanks 2011.
“We’ve been collecting for a year, on and off,” he said. “We started in earnest in the spring.”
The project has been in the works since 2009, when city officials visited Hoover, Ala., a Birmingham suburb, to inspect a prototype.
Grant money came through in December 2010 and the project was announced in February of this year.
“It’s been a long process because searching for equipment took longer than expected,” Kirk said
The conversion plant, which occupies a 1,200-square-foot addition to the public works department’s Broyles Road facility, combines the vegetable oil with a mixture of potassium hydroxide and methanol to make the biodiesel.
“We can make 80 gallons in five or six hours,” Breugh said.
The grant included enough money for an additional plant in the shed, which is big enough for two biodiesel processors.
“It depends on the raw materials,” Stokes said. “If we get it, we’ll expand.”
If two plants operate at full capacity, making more than 25,000 gallons a year, the can city reduce its nearly 100,000-gallon annual consumption of diesel by more than a quarter.
“At maximum production of biodiesel, the city would have the ability to reduce diesel fuel consumption by approximately 27 percent per year at a savings of approximately $32,000,” Bennett said.
The city expects to hit that mark in 2020, followed by a 25 percent reduction in fossil fuel emissions by 2025.
Kirk said Smyrna is the only metro Atlanta city she knows of with its own biodiesel plant; however, it is not the only municipality interested in the concept.
“We have been using biodiesel for the last four years,” Marietta City Manager Bill Bruton said. “We purchase it from a local vendor. Within the next 30 days we will have a request for proposals out for alternative fuel options.”
COOKING OIL DROP-OFF
* Fire station 1, 2620 Atlanta Road
* Fire station 2, 642 Concord Road
* Fire station 3, 2825 Park Road
* Fire station 4, 4595 S. Cobb Drive
* Fire station 5, 750 Cooper Lake Road
* Recycling center, 645 Smyrna Hill Drive
* Public works, Broyles Road at Atlanta Road