Waste cooking oil, produced when hotels, restaurants and food processing industries repeatedly overheat the same batch of oil to cook food, is toxic enough to pollute soil and water upon immediate contact.
The repeated use of the same batch of cooking oil for preparing food also triggers the formation of Trans Fatty Acid, which the National Heart Foundation has linked to heart diseases in consumers.
Now, Abdullah Al Hamid, a 30-year-old youth from Noakhali, has successfully turned the toxic substance into a useful product – in fact, two products.
In 2016, Hamid engineered a machine capable of recycling waste cooking oil into biodiesel and glycerin, which he began selling to petrol pumps and candle factories in the Dhaka region.
Hamid, who completed his studies at a private university in Dhaka, also established his own plant named Biotech Energy Ltd in Demra that year with financial support from the Bangladesh government.
This is the first plant of such type in the country.
Biotech Energy – the first such plant in the country – recycles six tonnes of waste cooking oil every month to produce 5.4 tonnes of biodiesel along with glycerin. Hamid, who is the managing director of the company, targets to achieve a production output of 100 tonnes per month in the next three months.
To achieve this target, the company is working to increase the collection of raw material – waste cooking oil. Hamid is also planning to import new machinery if he can reach the raw material collection target in the coming days.
Various government ministries and divisions, including the ICT Division, have extended their support to Hamid for his plans to expand the plant.
Speaking with The Business Standard, Hamid said, "We buy each litre of waste cooking oil for Tk15-20. After the recycling process, we get 90% biodiesel and 10% glycerin, which we sell for Tk60 and Tk20-22 per litre respectively.
"We spend around Tk40-45 per litre for collection and processing of raw material. The government rate for each litre of petrodiesel is Tk65."
Providing more details, Hamid said, "We are procuring waste cooking oil from KFC, Gloria Jean's, Food Chain Asia, Madchef, and Navana Food. They store their waste oil in containers, and we collect them every Saturday and Tuesday."
With the help of the government Hamid is also in contact with companies that produce potato chips because they "also produce the most amount of waste oil".
"As Biotech Energy is the first company of this type in Bangladesh, we can easily expand the business if we can secure an adequate amount of raw material," an optimistic Hamid said.
The Business Standard visited the Biotech Energy factory on Saturday to witness the waste oil recycling process firsthand. The company has its own laboratory, and the recycling process is in full swing there.
The company collects waste oil using mini-trucks and delivers biodiesel to petrol pumps using tank-lorries.
Responding to a query, Biotech Energy's Director Kadar Mohammad Riyadh said, "The diesel we produce here has passed the quality tests conducted by the Bangladesh Petroleum Corporations' (BPC) Eastern Refinery and the Bangladesh Council of Scientific and Industrial Research.
"We are supplying biodiesel to floating pumps in Dhaka's Sawarighat and Chandpur, and filling stations that sell fuel to cars."
The pumps are selling biodiesel to launches, steamers and cars by mixing it with petrodiesel in a 5%-10% ratio. The government's a2i (Aspire to Innovate) programme helped Biotech Energy get in touch with the pumps.
Energy specialist and Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet) Professor M Tamim said, "Biodiesel – when mixed with petrodiesel in a 10% ratio – causes no harm to a vehicle's engine.
"Pumps in the USA sell diesel fuel with the same mix. But we must ensure that the biodiesel is being produced by correctly converting cooking oil. Biodiesel produced by the recycling process must also be vetted to see whether its quality is tested."
Prof Tamim further said, "Petrodiesel mixed with biodiesel can be sold freely when authorised by the BPC. But pumps must hang signboards clearly mentioning the fuel mix to the customer, so that they can buy the mixed diesel knowingly."
Hamid's path to success and future plans
Abdulla Al Hamid was an MBA student at the United International University in 2015. Next year, he appeared before an a2i jury board with his idea of building a plant to recycle waste cooking oil to produce biodiesel.
The a2i approved his project, and Hamid successfully built the plant in June 2016. Following an agreement with the a2i the same year, he received a grant of Tk19 lakh from the government. He utilised the fund to launch a pilot project at his plant.
His venture won the SDGs Startup Award 2018 of the UNDP.
The pilot project lasted a year, and then Biotech Energy entered commercial production.
Hamid is planning to expand his company by reinvesting the profits he has made by selling biodiesel.
He has appointed four chemical engineers and four employees since the company began its journey. Hamid is now producing biodiesel from a 1,300sft factory rented for Tk18,000 per month in Demra.
"We want a technical collaboration with the food industries. There is much possibility ahead of us, so if we manage to procure more raw material, there will be no lack of funds for further investment," Hamid told The Business Standard.
"The process of collecting waste cooking oil is not as easy as we thought. The oil was being used by impoverished people and factories producing soap and chanachur. Breaking this chain to collect waste oil was a challenging endeavour. But the government extended support."
He continued, "It takes Tk1 crore to import a machine capable of a production output of 1 tonne. But we built the machines ourselves. This is why we did not need any additional investments excluding the Tk19 lakh grant from the government.
"We will build machines with a bigger capacity in the next three months. We will also import machinery if needed. Through the a2i, established businessmen have expressed interest in investing in our plant. Discussion on the matter is presently going on."
Professor Abdul Alim, a member of the Food Safety Authority under the Ministry of Food, said, "I have already talked with Square, Pran, Kashem Foods, and Ispahani Group. We asked the companies to provide waste oil to Biotech Energy at the same price they sell it to others.
"The companies have also shown interest. We are also introducing the Biotech Energy Ltd to five-star hotels."