NEWPORT – Even clean energy has some dirty byproducts.
For Newport Biodiesel Inc., a company that converts used cooking oil into biofuel, that byproduct is a toxic chemical known as methanol.
But thanks to a new distillation tower installed in 2018, the company can now reuse up to 3 million pounds of methanol a year. The $1 million, 60-foot tower hummed in the background as Dennis Deziel, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator for the New England region, announced results from the EPA’s latest Toxic Release Inventory at Newport Biodiesel on Wednesday.
The annual report reflects 2018 data for 21,557 facilities nationwide, 81 of which are in Rhode Island. Facilities are required to report all toxic chemical releases, as well as the amount of off-site production waste “managed” by recycling, combustion for energy recovery or treating for destruction.
The EPA selected Newport Biodiesel as the regional site from which to share its findings because of the company’s commitment to environmental best-practices, not only in the reduction in greenhouse gases through biofuel but also in its commitment to recycling toxic waste, Deziel said.
“It’s really impressive what you’ve done,” Deziel told company leaders after taking a tour of the facilities where used cooking oil from restaurants is filtered, purified and converted into biofuel.
In 2017, the facility disposed of 2.81 million pounds of methanol waste, mostly through off-site recycling and combustion for energy recovery, as well as a small amount that was released into the air. As of 2018, Newport Biodiesel has cut its offsite methanol waste management by 84% to just 423,258 pounds, a direct result of the distillation tower, the report said.
“We’ve all but virtually eliminated our methane emissions,” said Blake Banky, president of Newport Biodiesel.
What Banky framed as a “negligible” amount of methane not recycled through the tower was put through a catalytic oxidizer that burns fuel for energy. About 0.7% of the company’s offsite waste was still released into the environment in 2018, according to the report.
In addition to the environmental benefits, the distillation tower has also saved the company $500,000 on new methane needed during the oil conversion process, Banky said.
In the 2014 Toxic Release Inventory report, Newport Biodiesel was cited as the second-highest producer of on- and off-site environmental releases in the state, releasing 46,963 pounds of chemicals
In 2018, Rhode Island facilities disposed of 18.3 million pounds of toxic chemicals, 14.3 million pounds of which was recycled and 144,236 pounds of which was released into the environment – primarily into the air. This represented an 11.6% decrease over the 20.7 million pounds of waste disposed of in 2017, which included 191,520 pounds of chemicals released directly into the environment.
Regional and nationwide data also shows an increase in recycling of chemical waste, according to the report.
The Toxic Release Inventory does not reflect the relative toxicity of the chemicals emitted or potential exposure to people living in a community with reported releases.
Reporting under the Toxic Release Inventory also does not indicate illegal discharges of pollutants to the environment.
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