KENNER — Combining something the South does best — frying food — with something for which the region is not known — recycling— local businessman Steve Swanson has found success convincing kitchens to sell him their used cooking oil.
For Thanksgiving, Swanson’s Kenner-based company, Louisiana Oilworks, teamed up with Whole Foods Market to offer a collection site for oil from anyone who fried their bird for the holiday meal.
Swanson said that his 5-year-old business devoted to collecting and refining cooking oil is steadily gaining clients. It started with just a few restaurants, he said. Today, Swanson said Louisiana Oilworks collects about 80,000 gallons of used oil from about 300 to 400 restaurants in three states every month. The refined oil is then sent to another Louisiana-based company, where it is converted to renewable diesel fuel.
The renewable diesel, Swanson said, is the latest improvement on biodiesel and is synthetically identical to petroleum diesel.
By collecting their turkey oil, people can safely and legally get rid of it while making a contribution to a cleaner environment, Swanson noted.
At Whole Foods on Magazine Street, green mission team leader Kitty Baudoin said the store’s goal is to become a 90-95 percent waste-free facility by 2015. Other green efforts include recycling, composting, donating produce to the zoo and installing two charging stations for electric cars.
The store has been selling its cooking oil to Swanson’s company for several years, but this is the first time they have partnered for the Thanksgiving collection. With the region’s fondness for fried turkeys, “It’s a no-brainer,” Baudoin said.
To get his business off the ground, Swanson began talking to restaurants and other businesses that were paying a monthly fee to have their spent oil collected. When Swanson offered to collect their oil and pay them for it, he said they gladly accepted the proposal.
“There’s nothing sexy about it,” Swanson said, likening it to a trash collection business. But at the end of the day, he said, his business is contributing to the nation’s supply of alternative fuels. As the government sets regulations and target numbers to encourage an increase in the use of alternative fuels in the United States, the ultimate goal is to reduce the nation’s carbon footprint, Swanson said.
One issue Swanson noted was that renewable diesel can be hard to find for people looking to fill their engines. Swanson said he has plans to open a renewable diesel fueling station. Going even further, one of the company’s trucks has been converted from a diesel engine into one that can run entirely on cleaned cooking oil, cutting out the conversion step. It may smell a bit like french fries but otherwise runs great, Swanson said.
The goal of the company is not to replace carbon-based fuel, Swanson said, but to reduce the amount the country requires.
Whole Foods will be accepting the oil, cooled and in a sealed container, through Friday at its Uptown and Metairie locations. Louisiana Oilworks also collects oil from individuals at their homes. More information is available at (504) 451-2261.