Bahamas edges closer to energy independence

By Noelle Nicolls, The Tribune, The Bahamas

The Bahamas is one small step closer to achieving energy independence with the application by Bahamas Waste Limited to acquire a manufacturers license for biodiesel production.

The company plans to use waste cooking oil to produce biodiesel fuel. The initial plan is to create a way to recycle the hazardous waste product and to create cost savings from the manufacture of a more efficient fuel.

“They are taking a waste stream that is currently just getting dumped into a landfill or being burned and turning that into a fuel they can used instead of having to import petroleum diesel. From an economic perspective it will make sense for them, but there is a great environmental story there too,” said Graham Siener, a consultant on the project, and director of special projects at the Cape Eleuthera Island School.

Waste cooking oil is a toxic material that releases methane gas as it breaks down. It is also contains harmful carcinogens having being exposed to extreme heat through frying. There are currently no laws in the Bahamas governing the disposal of waste cooking oil, unlike many countries around the world.

Research conducted by the Cape Eleuthera Institute shows the Bahamas generates 700,000 to 800,000 gallons of waste cooking oil annually between cruise ships and commercial restaurants. Small scale restaurants and residential properties generate an additional few hundred gallons.

Biodiesel is a renewable fuel made from vegetable oils and animal fats. It is an internationally tested and accepted diesel fuel substitute than can be used in any diesel engine with little or no modification.

“Biodiesel has significant health benefits (especially when used in enclosed spaces such as forklifts in warehouses), and significant environmental benefits. One of the most striking features about biodiesel is its biodegradability and low toxicity. In a fragile marine environment such as The Bahamas, diesel spills or effluent to the water can be very harmful. Biodiesel is less toxic than table salt and biodegrades in the environment completely in under two weeks,” stated Mr Siener in a report on the benefits of using biofuel.

Bahamas Waste plans to convert to biodiesel to power its motor vehicles and all other mechanical equipment currently using petroleum diesel. They will not initially be licenced to sell their fuel, although this might present itself as an opportunity in the future.

“We are at the very early stages. When we produce our first 1,000 gallons then we can look into the future and think about what direction we want to go; then we can sit down with government and get into discussions about selling,” said Francisco de Cardenas, managing director, Bahamas Waste.

As the largest private waste management company in the Bahamas, the company currently operates more than 50 heavy duty vehicles. Between all of its mechanical operations, the company uses about 150,000 gallons of petroleum diesel annually.

They made the decision to switch to biodiesel about two years ago when the price of diesel rose over $6 per gallon, according to Mr de Cardenas. It required a “significant investment” to acquire the technology to move into the new venture.

“The processing equipment has been manufactured, tested and it is sitting in a Wisconsin plant waiting for shipment. We have some tanks at Bahamas Waste; we also have some tanks off property that we are trying to acquire and as soon as we get the go ahead we will bring all the tanks into the yard,” said Mr de Cardenas.

Waste oil for production will be obtained from “hotels, fast food restaurants, small little mom and pop shops, fish fry, anywhere that has it”, according to Mr de Cardenas, who said the plan was to be fully operational by the end of May, beginning of June.

As a consultant to the project, The Island School, has more than seven years worth of experience producing biodiesel in the Bahamas. They generate their own biodiesel, wind and solar power to power generators, motor vehicles and other on-property operations. The North Carolina based company Blue Ridge Biofuels is also a consultant on the project.

“Bahamas Waste is in the same position as us. Their first step is to produce for internal use. Currently there is no legislation dictating the sale of biodiesel. Historically all fuel was imported from outside the country, so the government could place a tax on imported fuel. There is no system in place for managing fuel produced domestically,” said Mr Siener.

The Island School has a small scale facility in comparison to the plans of Bahamas Waste. They produce and consume about 18,000 gallons of fuel annually.

As a non-profit organisation, their focus is modeling appropriate technologies towards achieving energy independence for the Bahamas, and not commercial enterprise.

“The ultimate objective is for the Bahamas to achieve energy independence. This is a great start towards that. The hope is that Bahamas Waste will be able to sell the fuel. When they ramp up to full scale they could be producing 1 percent of the diesel needed for Nassau each year. That is a small amount but that is not trivial,” said Mr Siener.