NEWPORT, Maine — Planning board members Tuesday night unanimously approved a new biofuel facility for the town’s Industrial Park on Route 2.
Linda and Ralph Howe, mother and son, own Bio Renewable Fuels in Fairfield, and once negotiations are completed to purchase a former mushroom farm in the park, they will move most of their company to Newport.
Ralph Howe said he had looked at several locations, including in Pittsfield and Palmyra.
“We chose Newport because it has a good, central location on the interstate, halfway between Bangor and Augusta,” Howe said Tuesday afternoon.
His business is the ultimate in recycling — taking used restaurant grease and vegetable oil, and processing it into fuel. Currently Howe produces only No. 6 fuel, which needs to be preheated and is used by many paper manufacturers. “Our smallest order is 8,000 gallons at a time,” he said.
But with the move to Newport, Howe said he hopes to expand his process to break into the residential heating market, which uses No. 2 fuel.
Once the property sale goes through, Howe said he will move most of his operation to Newport within 30 days. He also will hire at least two to three new employees. “More will depend on the product,” he said.
Howe said grease disposal is a huge problem for restaurateurs and his company finds no shortage of raw grease. “We use both fryolator oil and brown grease,” he said, explaining that brown grease is grease used on grills and other stoves.
At the Howes’ facility in Fairfield, the company was producing 30,000 gallons of fuel a week, or 1.4 million gallons annually.
The town of Fairfield benefited because — with a $40 filter — it retrofitted at least one of its Public Works’ trucks to run on the used and processed cooking oil.
The town also gave the company a $59,000 revolving loan, which Howe said had been repaid.
At Tuesday night’s meeting, Howe explained his process to planning board members, saying that a gallon of used grease can make nearly a full gallon of biofuel after processing. The rest of the gallon consists of glycerin, which the company also sells.
The cleansing process involves heating the grease and removing any debris or food bits. It is run through a screen mechanism and then heated again to drive out any water.
The material is run through a process that separates the organic vegetable matter from the glycerin. Methanol is mixed with sodium hydroxide, and a centrifuge is used to separate the two, Howe said. The light, clear fuel oil rises to the top and the glycerin drops to the bottom.
Ricker said that the town has no plans to retrofit vehicles at this point but when the furnace needs replacing in the Public Works, Fire and Police buildings, or if a new building is constructed, “we’ll definitely build with that capacity.”
Ricker said that as oil prices rise, the “better Howe is sitting.”