The Anchorage area's private trash hauler is making a multimillion-dollar investment to transform food grease into fuel for its fleet of garbage trucks.
Alaska Waste unveiled its new $3 million biodiesel plant in South Anchorage on Thursday. The company is collecting waste fryer oil from 240 local restaurants, groceries, hotels and hospitals from Girdwood to Wasilla. Last week, the plant churned out its first batches of biodiesel.
Executives said the fuel is being tested and gradually will be used by the company's truck fleet, blended with varying amounts of petroleum-based diesel.
The advantage of biodiesel is that it creates much less greenhouse gas emissions than regular diesel, said Jeff Riley, Alaska Waste's chief operating officer.
Before Alaska Waste joined the biodiesel bandwagon, most of the greasy goo produced in the Anchorage area had been barged to the Lower 48 to be converted for other uses, or was tossed into local trash bins and landfills. However, a handful of people in Southcentral Alaska also collect used veggie oil for use in their vehicles and home heating.
These home brewers were worried at first, but it doesn't look like Alaska Waste will drain the supply of oil in town, said Will Taygan, a Peters Creek resident who owns Arctic Vegeworks.
"(Alaska Waste) has targeted more large-scale waste-oil producers," he said.
He said home brewers still have a more than adequate supply from smaller restaurants.
Biodiesel was a big fad a few years ago when gasoline was fetching record prices, but Taygan said the fad ended when petroleum prices declined.
"Everyone who was (brewing it) five years ago is still doing it, but the other folks have quieted down," he said.
Riley, of Alaska Waste, said the company built the plant to capitalize on a useful product, reduce air pollution and keep grease out of the landfill. In the future, he said, Alaska Waste might team up with local fuel distributors to enable Anchorage residents to purchase some of the biodiesel.
The roughly 3,000-square-foot plant occupies a large dirt lot behind the company headquarters off Dowling Road on Rosewood Street, just south of the city's recycling center.
Last year, Alaska Waste began installing storage tanks at local commercial kitchens. The tanks store used fryer oil until the company's small tanker trucks arrive to pick it up.
"It's a win-win situation," said Greg Todd, the franchise owner for Dairy Queen Grill and Chill, whichhas five restaurants in the Anchorage area.
He said it saves restaurant employees time and effort handling the waste, and the tanks are much less "nasty" than trying to put the oil in a trash bin or in a steel drum for collection.
Other suppliers include the Fred Meyer, Safeway and New Sagaya grocery stores, McDonald's, Carl's Jr., Walmart, the Lucky Wishbone and the Peanut Farm.
Alaska Mill Feed & Garden Center collected used fryer oil from local restaurants and sent it to customers in the Lower 48 until last year. That's when Alaska Waste bought the company's equipment and took over the supply route.
Mark Goodman, a manager at Mill Feed, said he is pleased with how things worked out because the new plant allows the waste oil to be put to a good use in Alaska.
The biodiesel plant was finished in April, and it didn't need any government funding, according to Riley.
He said the project's financial support came from JL Properties, a large real estate firm in Anchorage that partially owns Alaska Waste.
At least one other Alaska business -- Juneau's Baranof Hotel -- collects used restaurant oil to turn into fuel. The Baranof uses the oil in its heating system.
Find Elizabeth Bluemink online at adn.com/contact/ebluemink or call 257-4317.
By ELIZABETH BLUEMINK