Treatment plant ready to turn grease into greenbacks

Feb 13, 2017

After four years, $400,000 and a few months of “cooking” lessons, a milestone in the Water Pollution Control Facility’s effort to take hard-to-treat grease and turn it into cash is approaching.

The new equipment responsible for that is “Greasezilla.” Consisting of two, 10,000-gallon tanks and a sophisticated control panel, the setup is located inside a small warehouse at 7 Tony’s Lane. The treatment plant’s Greasezilla is the only one of its kind in southern New England.

West Virginia-based Downey Ridge Environmental Company sells and manufactures Greasezilla, a brown-grease separation system that takes used grease (mostly from restaurants) and refines it into a high-grade biofuel, which is then resold.

Water Pollution Control Facility Director Guy Campinha says the first 4,200-gallon batch of refined grease made in Wareham is almost ready to be sold. He is shopping around now to get the best price.

Campinha said he’s aware there was some doubt regarding the project when it was first announced, but he thanked residents for their patience and for approving a $400,000 agenda item at the April 2014 Town Meeting. Voters OK’d a transfer of the money from the facility’s $2.7 million “retained earnings” fund.

“People have been wondering – I’ve heard the rumors, the rumbles – that it’s a waste of money,” said Campinha. “I understand because the results weren’t immediate, but it takes time. We’ve come a long ways.”

Greasezilla was turned on this past August, four years after Campinha first started his research. From then until now Campinha said staff have undergone a lengthy trial-and-error process as they learn how to “cook” the grease. Temperature control is important to take the refuse and turn it into a commodity.

According to Campinha, Greasezilla serves a few different purposes, including removing pipe-clogging grease from the sewer system. It generates money, too.

So far, Campinha has deals with businesses across southern New England who ship waste grease to Wareham. Customers include Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino, and Campinha is in talks to start accepting grease from businesses on Martha’s Vineyard.

Businesses pay the pollution control facility 14 cents per gallon to treat the grease. Once refined, the grease is sold to the highest bidder. When Campinha first started researching Greasezilla, the refined oil was selling for $1.50 per gallon. Today, it’s down to 16 cents per gallon.

“Right now, the market is low and that’s OK because the goal wasn’t just to sell the oil,” said Campinha. “We’re paid to bring it in…There’s a lot of residual benefits in addition to making money.”

The refining process goes like this: trucks bring the grease to the facility where it’s pumped into the first tank and heated; solids, such as trash, are skimmed away and sent to an incinerator; the grease is then sent to a second tank where it is refined again.

After the second treatment, grease is loaded into pumper trucks where it is delivered to companies who use it for bio-fuel or other industrial applications, such as lubricants.

With Greasezilla online and ready to work, Campinha has plans to educate Wareham restaurant owners about properly disposing of grease. Per state law, restaurant grease traps must be pumped out quarterly. Campinha said owners have been lax, but he’s starting a new effort to make them aware of the law and comply.

“Not only does [grease] clog the lines, it creates backups in the sewer and we have to jet wash them more. It creates problems in the pump stations…and it stinks to high heaven,” said Campinha. “There’s a lot of problems with grease.”