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Biofuel: Used Cooking Oil Vs. Shea Olein

OTI town running on biofuel
A town running on biofuel

The global energy landscape is undergoing a significant transformation, with renewable energy sources such as biofuels playing an increasingly important role.

Biofuels, derived from organic materials, offer a sustainable and environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels.

In this context, the use of shea olein as a biofuel presents a compelling case for used cooking oil.

Shea Olein: A Sustainable Biofuel

Shea olein, derived from the shea tree native to Africa, is a viable source of biofuel. The shea tree is a drought-resistant species that grows abundantly in the wild, making it a sustainable source of biofuel. The demand and market drivers for Shea olein were highlighted during the Shea 2022 conference. However, specific details about the market size and growth rate for Shea olein biofuel are not readily available.

Based on available data provided by the Research and Development Department of Organic Trade and Investments (OTI):

while the market for Shea olein as a biofuel is still emerging it is part of the larger biofuel market which is expected to see growth in the coming years, driven by factors such as sustainability, technological advancements, and supportive government policies.

It’s important to note that the biofuel market as a whole is influenced by various factors. For instance, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a drop of 8.5% in global transport fuel use in 2020, which also led to a decrease in biofuel use by 8.7%. Despite this, the biofuel market is expected to recover in 2021 and 2022, in line with the expected total fuel demand recovery.

Over the medium term, global biofuel consumption is expected to increase, mainly driven by higher blending targets in developing countries. In developed countries, biofuel expansion will be limited due to decreasing fossil fuel demand and reduced policy incentives.

OTI sampling refined shea olein in a drum
Refined shea olein in a drum

The extraction of shea olein for biofuel does not compete with food production, unlike other biofuel sources such as corn or soybeans.

The process of converting shea olein into biofuel is relatively straightforward and efficient. Shea olein has a high fatty acid content, which makes it ideal for conversion into biodiesel through a process known as transesterification. The resulting biodiesel is a clean-burning fuel that produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional diesel.

Used Cooking Oil: Challenges and Limitations

The market for biofuel derived from used cooking oil, also known as UCO, has seen significant growth in recent years. This growth is largely due to an increased focus on sustainable energy resources and environmental conservation. In terms of market size, the global used cooking oil market was valued at USD 5.16 billion in 2020. It is projected to grow to USD 10.08 billion in 2028, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.76% during the 2021-2028 period. Some reports even anticipate the market to reach USD 11.6 billion by 2032.

Regionally, North America has been leading the global market with a share of 42.82% in 2020. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the market, causing a negative demand shock across all regions. Despite this, the market has seen a rise in applications. Used cooking oils can be refined into renewable fuels, which can replace fossil fuels, or used to produce raw material for polymers and chemicals.

Technological advancements have also played a role in the market’s growth. Recent developments in technologies used to process waste cooking oil into high-quality refined oil have emerged in favor of the growth of the overall market. Government initiatives promoting UCO utilization for industrial purposes are expected to drive the growth of the used cooking oil market in the coming years.

Furthermore, the demand for Used Cooking Oil (UCO) for biodiesel production in the EU is likely to increase significantly, especially in light of the Renewable Energy Directive II. In conclusion, the market for biofuel from used cooking oil is on a growth trajectory, driven by factors such as sustainability, technological advancements, and supportive government policies.

biofuel from used cooking oil
used cooking oil for biofuel

Used cooking oil, while a readily available waste product, presents several challenges as a biofuel source. The quality and composition of used cooking oil can vary widely, affecting the efficiency and reliability of the resulting biofuel. Additionally, the collection and processing of used cooking oil on a large scale can be logistically challenging and costly.

Moreover, the application of used cooking oil as a biofuel raises ethical and environmental concerns. The diversion of used cooking oil from waste treatment facilities can lead to an increase in improper disposal practices, such as pouring used oil down drains, which can cause significant environmental harm.

This process involves reacting the shea olein with an alcohol (usually methanol) in the presence of a catalyst (such as potassium hydroxide) to produce biodiesel. The time required for this process can vary, but it is generally efficient and straightforward. On the contrary, used cooking oil requires additional steps to prepare the oil for conversion into biofuel. These differences can impact the time and resources required for biofuel production. An Operation Officer with extensive knowledge in the field explains how used cooking oil is extracted for biofuels.

The process of converting used cooking oil into biofuel is a bit more complex. First, the used cooking oil must be collected and filtered to remove food particles. Then, it undergoes a process called centrifugation to separate water and impurities. After that, stabilizing agents are added to improve viscosity. The oil is then ready to be converted into biodiesel through a process similar to that used for shea olein, known as transesterification. This process can be time-consuming and logistically challenging due to the variability in the quality and composition of used cooking oil.

While both shea olein and used cooking oil present viable options for biofuel production, shea olein offers several advantages in terms of sustainability, efficiency, and environmental impact. As the world continues to seek out renewable energy sources, the potential of shea olein as a biofuel deserves further exploration and investment. Esthy Ama Asante, the CEO and Head of Business Development at OTI, recommends that cost-conscious customers consider the combined use of shea olein and used cooking oil for improved outcomes.

Blending Shea olein with used cooking oil could be a practical, economical, and eco-friendly approach to produce a functional biofuel that can cater to various industries.


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