Sandals operates marine vessels on biodiesel from cooking oil

Sandals operates marine vessels on biodiesel from cooking oil

... Plans to expand

Friday, February 21, 2020

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FOLLOWING the success of its Biodiesel Conversion Centre in St Lucia, where Sandals Resorts International has, for the past five years, been converting used vegetable oil from the kitchens at its three resorts on the island into fuel for use in marine vessels, the company is exploring ways to expand the project throughout its resorts across the region.

The company's Dive Centre at Pointe Seraphine has been the site of the biodiesel plant, initiated in 2015 as a pilot in keeping with its commitment to sustainable environmental practices. It was spearheaded by Maurice Moss, then marine boat maintenance manager, who built the first conversion processor from bits and pieces he collected from all three resorts.

The plant, which has since been upgraded, is now managed by Quentin Landman, while the actual fuel conversion is handled by the company's biodiesel technician, Sammy Hillman.

Biodiesel is a clean burning alternative to petroleum diesel and is derived from new or waste vegetable oil. It is made by reacting fatty acids with a base in the presence of an alcohol, typically methanol, and a catalyst. The two most common bases are sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide.

According to the US departments of energy and agriculture, using biodiesel in place of petroleum diesel will reduce the emission of total unburned hydrocarbon by 60 per cent, carbon monoxide by 48 per cent, and particulate matter by 47 per cent, and will see a 100 per cent reduction in sulphates.

Research has also shown that biodiesel is the first fuel to have fully completed the health effects testing of the US Clean Air Act, with results revealing that biodiesel poses no health threats and reduces the compounds linked to cancer by 80-90 per cent.

According to Landman, the plant produces approximately 320 gallons of biodiesel per month, which is used to fuel the company's four 16-tonne dive boats as well as his own company-issued van.

“We manufacture about 80 gallons over six days and our engines drink diesel at rates of 25 gallons an hour. What we save at the pump is about 90 cents per litre of diesel. We do get worthwhile savings,” he said.

Landman explained that the use of biodiesel saves the company approximately XCD $1,361.26 per month in fuel costs, which translates to XCD $16,335.12 a year.

“Using the biodiesel fuel cuts our monthly diesel budget by 10 per cent. For a small project, those are commendable results,” he added.

Although the company's vessels are not fully run on biodiesel and are instead powered by a mix of biodiesel and petroleum diesel, Landman says the environmental benefits and the savings are no less remarkable.

“We add about 35 to 45 per cent biodiesel to the vessels' diesel, and we do this because there are settings in the vehicles' engine control unit that would need to be changed to allow them to run entirely on biodiesel, and we've not done that yet. We've found that a mix is best and I've used it on my own vehicle with no ill effects,” he said.

Landman added that mixing biodiesel and petroleum diesel maintains similar horsepower and fuel economy.

To create biodiesel, waste vegetable oil from the resorts' kitchens is taken to the Dive Centre where it is strained to remove food remnants. From there, the oil is left to settle for several days before the clean surface oil is pumped into storage containers. The oil is thereafter pumped into a processor and heated to remove excess water. An acidity test or titration is done to determine the free fatty acid content as a measure of the quantities of chemicals needed to initiate the conversion process. The reaction of the base and the methanol produces methoxide, which is slowly introduced into the oil and mixed for several hours. The product of the reaction is then transferred to a settling tank where chemical separation takes place and the biodiesel is formed.

The newly formed biodiesel is further transferred to wash tanks or dry wash columns where it goes through a series of washes to remove residual chemicals. From there, the biodiesel is dried by heating and circulation to extract excess water and then pumped through a filter for immediate use or for storage.

Landman also revealed that residual product from the conversion process, known as glycerol, is beneficial and when subjected to one more chemical process can be transformed into liquid soap for use in the kitchen or to wash marine vessels.

Sandals Resorts International's Deputy Chairman Adam Stewart expressed pride at the accomplishments of the team.

“The work that this team has been doing is nothing short of remarkable. It not only speaks to our commitment to the environment and to reducing our carbon footprint, but it also highlights the talent and expertise of our team members who have committed to this project and have reaped commendable results. All the work is being done in-house by our team, and that alone is incredibly significant,” he said.

Stewart added that additional research and testing would continue in St Lucia, with a view to replicating the work of the conversion centre in all islands where Sandals and Beaches operate.

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