A Queen Creek auto repair business plans to branch into production of biodiesel fuel - an alternative energy source derived from vegetable oil.
Lil' Auto Repair Center, 17998 S. 186th St., hopes to begin biodiesel manufacturing within six months, using waste vegetable oil collected from local restaurants, said owner Jake Hannabach. Initially, the fuel will be sold to fleet operators whose vehicles run on diesel, but later Hannabach hopes to sell directly to drive-up motorists.
"Eventually we could get a pump on-site," he said. "We would like to sell directly to the public."
Hannabach is tapping into the increased interest in alternative fuels caused by lofty gasoline prices. In Arizona, AZ Biofuels is planning to expand at a new location in Gilbert and Amereco Biofuels Corp. is ramping up production at a plant in Arlington, west of Phoenix.
The city of Scottsdale is among the fleet operators to adopt the fuel, having used biodiesel in its vehicles since 2003.
Hannabach, 36, decided to enter the industry at the urging of some of his fleet customers who were looking for alternatives to soaring fuel costs. After studying the possibilities, he became convinced he could do it.
"We are in the auto repair business but we have branched into muffler service, transmission repairs, emissions. Biodiesel ties it all in," he said.
Hannabach said he already has about 80 percent of the equipment needed to produce the fuel in a process called transesterification. Waste vegetable oil collected from restaurants will be brought to the site, put through a filtering system to remove impurities and mixed with a methanol and lye solution. The mixture then goes through a washing and drying process and emerges as a fuel ready for use in diesel-powered vehicles.
The fuel could be sold as 100 percent biodiesel or sold to blenders who would mix it with petroleum-based diesel to make a blended fuel, Hannabach said. Biodiesel and petro-diesel can be used interchangeably without the need for modification to vehicles, he added. He figures he can produce about 1,500 gallons every two or three days. Before the auto repair business can offer the product commercially, however, it will have to receive several regulatory permits.
Hannabach believes he can produce the fuel at a competitive price as long as he doesn't have to venture too far to collect the vegetable oil. He is trying to hold down costs by trading for tanks and processor equipment rather than buying.
Bill Shaeffer, executive vice president of marketing for Amereco, said he expects more biodiesel producers will enter the business because of strong interest in alternative fuels.
"It's sort of dawned on a few folks that having our economy entirely dependent on foreign sources of energy is not really a good position to be in," he said.
But he expressed concerns that the new entrants meet high standards for the quality of their fuel. Bad fuel from just one supplier could reflect poorly on the fledgling industry as a whole, he said.
"The (quality) standards are very rigid," he said.
Shaeffer said Amereco's plant in Arlington, which started production about three months ago, has the capacity to make 15 million gallons a year. It is also using waste vegetable oil from restaurants, he said.