From Waste Cooking Oil to Power & the Possibilities of Bio Diesel (Part Two)


Reading Time : 9mins

Since 2011 Yanmar Energy System has been working on the development of waste cooking oil — vegetable oil fuel — powered bio diesel cogeneration systems (CHP). Here at Y-Media we investigated ideas and goals behind the technologies, systems and background events which surrounded the project to bring you this two part report series.

In Part One we covered the processes involved in power generation using the bio diesel CHP which was introduced to The Coop Tohoku Sunnet Federation; a member of the Miyagi Consumer’s Cooperative Society (hereafter Coop Miyagi). From collecting waste cooking oil to purifying the oil to make a straight vegetable oil (SVO) up to power generation, we photographed and documented each and every step.

Here in part two, we report on the discussions held at Coop Miyagi’s head office between various representatives at Yanmar Energy System and Coop Miyagi. We take a further look into the principles and environmental activities pursued by Coop Miyagi together with the vision shared by both companies for a sustainable society.

Morning at the Coop Miyagi head office. Home delivery trucks line up waiting to depart on their rounds. Amongst these we spot some bio diesel powered cars.
The Yanmar bio diesel CHP installed behind Coop Miyagi’s main office building.

This bio diesel CHP that we are reporting on in part 2 was installed at the Coop Miyagi head office in 2017, after the Coop Miyagi recycling center bio diesel CHP installation. Why has the bio diesel CHP received so much interest? To find the answer we started with a look at their thoughts on environmental issues.

MiyamotoHiromu Miyamoto
Chairman of BOD
Miyagi Consumer’s Cooperative Society

OharaHidenori Ohara
Head of the Environmental Management Office
Miyagi Consumer’s Cooperative Society

OhashiTakakazu Ohashi
Senior Project Manager
Sales and Marketing Division
Yanmar Energy System

TodaJiro Toda
Divisional Manager
Sales and Marketing Division of the Sendai Branch
Yanmar Energy System

Coop Miyagi’s Vision for a Sustainable Society

―― Coop Miyagi’s environmental principles outline its commitment to reducing its environmental footprint and establishing harmonious living with nature in order to build a sustainable society through the initiatives and businesses of members and employees. We kicked off the discussions by asking about the background to the formation of these principles.

MiyamotoOur point of departure was to solve environmental issues together with cooperative members in our area. As a cooperative we focused on using our limited natural resources more efficiently and reducing CO2levels.

The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 was a key historical turning point. At the time, I participated as a member of a representative group for cooperatives across Japan. In response to the growing global awareness surrounding the need to give serious thought to environmental issues, we established the NGO, Miyagi Environmental Life Out-reach Network (MELON).

In 2002 we installed the solar panels on the roof of our Coop Miyagi Watari store. Around 2005, we took the lead by teaming up with local supermarkets across the nation in a drive to reduce plastic shopping bags. Then in 2006, we opened the recycling center and began collecting residential waste products such as pet bottles, milk cartons and plastic food packaging at our stores for recycling and reuse.

Milk cartons and plastic food packaging collected at our stores are then processed to become recycled paper or plastic at our recycling center.
We also set up a ‘recycling point system’ in collaboration with a company called Saikoh. Used paper is weighed in weighing containers and points are allocated based on the overall weight. These points are redeemable at stores.

―― The global wide issue of CO2reduction seems to fit closely with the pursuits with the community and cooperative members.

MiyamotoEnvironmental issues must be seen from a personal, a community and a global perspective. Coop Miyagi is not just a business unit, but an association comprising of over 700,000 members. And with each member working to raise environmental awareness, from here on we will be a major force in the drive to build sustainable communities and a sustainable society.

―― Your environmental activities seem to have a particular focus on energy.

MiyamotoThey certainly do. The meltdown of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant after the Great East Japan Earthquake caused extensive damage. In Miyagi Prefecture, scattered radioactive materials and harmful rumors were issues which we were directly confronted with. As a cooperative, at Coop Miyagi we reviewed our standpoint and took action to eliminate nuclear power and pursue power generation with renewable energies.

The Tohoku region is abundant with natural energy.

The Tohoku region is abundant with natural energy. We have been working to create systems which realize the local production and local consumption of energy from natural resources including the sun, wind and biomass; enabling us to utilize this electricity to sustain our livelihoods. These ventures led to our pursuits with Yanmar to generate power with waste cooking oils together.

Pioneering SVO Generated Power in Japan:
The Yanmar and Coop Miyagi Partnership

The container where left-over oil from the fryer is collected: “Oil’s Lasting Beauty.” This SVO is purified to enable its use in power generation.

―― Within the field of renewable energies, there is a diverse range of production processes and methods. What drew you towards bio diesel power generation?

OharaWhen we heard about Yanmar’s pilot testing of a FAME powered bio diesel CHP at the Saitama co-op, we also found out about the possibilities of SVO in power generation. We decided to put the idea to our chairman to see what he had to say.

MiyamotoAt Coop Miyagi we had previously looked into methods of using waste cooking oil. Straight vegetable oil which has impurities removed was the better choice compared with the refined BDF (bio diesel fuel) which had been turning heads in the scientific world. Everything went smoothly, right up to the CHP’s installation.

A range of materials for recycling including packaging for fish and styrofoam packaging are brought to the recycling center. Electricity from bio diesel CHP provides the majority of the power needed for the recycling process.

OharaIn January 2015, we set up a time to go through the details. Our estimates showed that with the bio diesel CHP we could reduce our electrical bill down from one million Japanese yen a month to about 300,000 yen a month.

Environmental activities are essentially an investment, so ensuring cost effectiveness on the financial side of things was an important factor. SVO enables us to utilize the waste cooking oil taken from both business units of Coop Miyagi and the homes of cooperative members as a fuel, in addition to providing financial benefit. The chairman also agreed that SVO was the better choice, giving us the go ahead in March. In about 6 months in September 2015, the bio diesel CHP was installed at our recycling center.

MiyamotoThe better the project is the sooner it should be put into action. Furthermore, as the first example of SVO power generation in Japan it was a perfect opportunity to make our environmental activities better known throughout Japan.

Its biggest appeal was the fact that we could convert waste cooking oil into electricity. While we had previously worked on converting waste cooking oil into BDF, there are more uses for electricity than there are for fuel. Furthermore, bio diesel CHP is not dependent on weather conditions as is the case with solar and wind power; offering uninterrupted power generation. This was a major plus.

Japan’s First Waste Cooking Oil Derived SVO Generator:
A Look Back on 18 Months of Operation

―― Starting with the technical side, at the time did Yanmar already have the technology for SVO power generation?

OhashiAn engine is run using heat, and therefore using SVO to operate an engine was something we understood. However, as was mentioned, building an engine sturdy enough to power a generator for 4000 hours was something we had yet to challenge ourselves with.

OharaIntroducing new technology comes with its own risks. Being aware of this fact, Yanmar provided us with a spare machine in case something went wrong. At the same time however, they also requested that we run the machine under the worse conditions possible so that they could collate data. This involved things like extending the time between filter changes and standard oil change intervals, so that they could see how the engine operates under really severe conditions.

TodaAt Yanmar we have pilot generators, people who want to put waste cooking oil to use and a plant which produces SVO from waste cooking oil. In other words, the combination of these three provided us with the optimal conditions to launch a new business.

―― In terms of introducing a new product, were there any obstacles or difficulties?

OhashiWhile everything went smoothly leading up to its installation, there were a few things that required adjusting after we commenced operations. In the beginning we had some clogging up of the fuel filter. When temperatures plummeted in the winter we had to deal with both insufficient heating or overheating of the fuel. To prevent oil oxidation in the fuel tank, we made system improvements one by one, including using a filter for circulation and filtration at night.

TodaAs a rule we only hand over products to customers after they have undergone long term trialling. In this case, our plan was to gradually refine the machine after it had been put into actual use by a customer.

―― How was it after it was put into operation?

OharaWith the exception of when we purposefully ran the machine under bad conditions, we didn’t receive any undesirable responses. We met our goal of 70% reduction in electricity costs, meaning we could safely say that everything went according to plan.

A New Generator & the Path Towards a Circular Model of Society

―― Based on the success of the recycling center, what developments should we be expecting in the future?

OharaWhile currently we produce energy for self consumption, talks are underway to increase the number of units we have and sell the electricity produced to The EarthClub Co.,Ltd. (a new power company established by the Japanese Consumers’ Co-operative Union). This year we installed units at the head office and the East deliveries center and we’re looking into adding two more units next year.

―― After 18 months of actual operations of the generator, what expectations do you have in terms of the functions of future bio diesel CHPs?

OharaI’d like to see a function which enables co-op members to visualize results. For example, a monitor which displays how much power is currently being generated. From the technology side, some people might be put off by the smell of waste cooking oil. While people have differing sensibilities, we need to look into possible solutions.

OhashiI’m really grateful to get direct feedback like this. At the recycle center, when things go wrong it is reflected in the product. And it is these instances that enable us to refine our systems. Today’s discussion is something I can take away as homework and use in our investigations.

As a manufacturer of generators, our contributions will come about through shifting eco-friendly generators which offer power output equal to that of fossil fuels into the mainstream markets. We are also developing generators which run not only on liquids but also gas derived from wood carbonization. Our goal is for Yanmar to become the name that springs to mind when people think of biomass generators.

―― In an age where the demand for renewable energy is on the up this project is a big step forward.

MiyamotoIt is not just our co-operatives, but also the union members and the members of the community that all need to come together and embrace change. Together we are capping CO2emissions, ending our reliance on nuclear power, creating a system for recycling energies and conserving our environment. These are the topics which are currently being discussed not only in Miyagi prefecture but between the various co-ops within all of Coop Tohoku.

Solving environmental problems and creating business opportunities is what it is all about. To ensure the sustainability of the project itself, we need to think within the bounds of what is feasible. We need to expand and deepen collaborations between research and development bodies including corporations, governments and universities.

OhashiThe philosophy of Yanmar’s founder, Magokichi Yamaoka was “To conserve fuel is to serve mankind.” While the meaning of these words is to not waste one drop of fuel, if we transfer it into today’s context, the meaning would be to create a sustainable system for society through the nurturing of our natural environment and resources. Yanmar Energy System is a company that contributes in the fields of climate control and power generation. Therefore, as a company our mission is to leverage renewable energy to produce power.

1/8 of the electricity consumed at the environmental management office is generated by the bio diesel CHP.

The “power from waste cooking oil” project is the first of its kind in Japan, combining Coop Miyagi’s over 25 years of environmental action and Yanmar’s vision — “to conserve fuel is to serve mankind” — which has been passed down over the last 100 years. The unparalleled speed at which Coop Miyagi and Yanmar introduced the bio diesel CHP, was due to them both sharing the same clear vision for a sustainable model of society based on the circulation of resources.

Used cooking oil from frying is an everyday household product. Creating power with cooking oil is one step in the move from a community-based recycling system which circulates resources, to a globally reaching sustainable model for society. From here on, at Y-Media we intend to focus on social initiatives that transcend the existing frameworks between publics and corporations.