Full Circle

Published on: April 25th, 2014

ClearEcos started with a clear mission: improve the air quality of the Front Range of Colorado. Since their first day in 2008, the biofuel company has expanded its reach from recycling vegetable oil into usable fuel to powering its entire facility with wind energy.

Kurt Lange, the brains and CEO behind ClearEcos, took a minute to talk shop with YS about biodiesel, organic soap and working with local restaurants.

It began as a way to help the eco-conscious diesel driver: “Back in 2008, we were dealing with some local people—environmentalists—running their engines off of vegetable oil conversions. They were having a hard time accessing that oil because of the market conditions and larger companies squeezing them out of restaurant oil collection,” said Lange.

The chemical conversion from used vegetable oil to biodiesel is rather confusing. It involves a hefty slew of chemical engineering terms that I am just not equipped to mix into something useful, but here’s a working example. ClearEcos gives participating restaurants large blue oil drums where they dump their used vegetable oil. The company then sends its collection fleet—which all run on one hundred percent biodiesel, naturally—to pump the used restaurant oil from the drums.

Once at the plant in Boulder, the oil is refined and processed in two-story vats. After the oil has been processed and stripped of its unnecessary components, it is picked up by ClearEco’s partner refinery in Kansas, where it will be refined to its final, useable product: biodiesel.

They trade refined biodiesel for processed vegetable oil when their partner from Kansas arrives. The swap is yet another move with Mother Nature in mind. “We get the vegetable oil on a truck that runs on a hundred percent biofuel, convert into biodiesel at our plant and refuel our trucks to do it again,” said Lange. “It’s a
closed loop of oil to usable biodiesel.”

If used vegetable oil isn’t recycled into biofuel, it is ripe for other, less green applications. It is used as a pet food attractant and livestock feed. It gets into the water system when someone carelessly drains used grease.

As for biodiesel? “This is by far the highest improvement that you can do for society is to turn this into biofuel, because the reduction of pollution is so substantial,” said Lange. “There’s a lot of good conscious, sustainable minded restaurant owners that operate here that want to participate in cleaning the air of
Colorado.”

The subtraction of sulfur that occurs in the biodiesel conversion process also helps to eliminate an age-old demon: the black cloud.

We have reductions in particulate emissions–the black soot. If you’ve seen a diesel accelerate and you see that black cloud, it’s very hard to produce that cloud off of biodiesel. That particulate is concerned citizen use biofuel?

“Virtually every diesel vehicle can use biodiesel,” said Lange, “but it depends on the engine. Many of the manufacturers are standardizing on a twenty percent biodiesel blend, and twenty percent is what Boulder County runs, it’s what you’ll see as a general distribution model. Typically, its called B20, which is twenty
percent biodiesel blended with eighty percent petrol diesel.”

Great news for those with diesel engines, but a word of caution from the green advocate and CEO: “Full, one hundred percent rubber components exposed to one hundred percent biodiesel will deteriorate.” Basically, the rubber inner components of a vehicle can become spongy.

“If you have a vehicle that is older than 1993, you will want to change some of those hoses out along with the fuel line” said Lange. The repairs are easy and the full hose replacement necessary to prevent sponging costs around forty dollars.

As if recycling oil into biofuel wasn’t enough, Kurt Lange and his team at ClearEcos developed an organic, and strong line of cleaners and soaps from what is left after the fuel is processed. The company provides these cleaners to the kitchens who share their oil, and they offer it for sale in local storefronts. The organic soap took eighteen months to develop and it cleans better than some brand name competition.

While ClearEcos’ biofuel is not available for private consumption just yet, you can grab a B20 blend fuel at Bartkus on Pearl Street, and Lange says that entering the consumer marketplace is on the horizon for the company. ClearEcos estimates that they annually divert around three million pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Their warehouse is a Zero-Waste Facility and was constructed using 98% recycled material, and they sell a product that is recycled and cleaner to use. They practice what they preach.

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