Biofuels effluent, does it exceed regulatory limits?

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Courtesy of Spectro Scientific

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as other regulatory agencies around the world, have established limitation guidelines for discharges of “oily wastes” from facilities utilizing any type of oil and grease in their manufacturing process. However, recently several biodiesel plants in the US have been fined for illegally discharging vegetable-based oil and grease and polluting nearby streams. While biodiesel plants are new to the industrial community, they need to be good neighbors and properly dispose and comply with regulations regarding “oily wastes.” Current limits on oil and grease concentration levels will force biodiesel plants to monitor their waste byproducts more closely prior to discharging which means measuring the oil and grease concentration levels to ensure compliance.

Oil and Grease Compliance

Biofuels producers discharging into a sewer line, waterway or applying industrial sludge to the soil are faced with strict oil and grease limits as part of the Clean Water Act or other local regulations. Discharge into a sewer line is regulated by the local Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTW). POTW’s are very concerned about Sanitary Sewer Overflows (SSOs) as they are an important “non-point” source of pollution in our waterways. Non-point source pollution is from many sources and not directly from one industrial facility. When industries are discharging high levels of oil and grease into a sewer line, a clog can form and result in an SSO that is then added to runoff headed for our waterways. It is estimated that 23-28% of Sanitary Sewer Overflows (SSOs) are due to Fats, Oils and Grease (FOG) or as much as 19 million gallons from 1998 to 2001 (State of North Carolina, 2004). Effluent limits of oil and grease going into a sewer for industries can be as low as 100 ppm. Limits for oil and grease going directly into a waterway are often 4 ppm. To ensure compliance, industries – including biodiesel plants - need an accurate, quick and simple form of on-site analysis to test their oily waste prior to discharge.

Infrared Analysis of FOG

On-site infrared analysis of oil and grease has been used in the petroleum industry on highly regulated off shore oil platforms around the world for over 35 years. The measurement by infrared absorption makes use of the fact that hydrocarbons such as fats, oil and grease can be extracted from water or soil through the use of an appropriate solvent. The extracted hydrocarbons absorb infrared energy at a common infrared wavelength and the amount of energy absorbed is proportional to the concentration of the oil/grease in the solvent. This can be directly calibrated or converted to the amount of oil in the original sample.

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