The Green Scene

As a teen working at my local McDonald’s, I never dreamed that the old oil from those french-fry vats would one day power diesel engines and heat homes. Nor did I imagine you would ever get a decent cup of joe at the joint. But these days, all the major fast-food chains hawk something resembling lattes, and you can buy biodiesel that’s 99.9 percent pure waste vegetable oil (recycled and properly processed, of course)—right here in Asheville.

Let’s get technical: Blue Ridge Biodiesel staffer George Sawyer pauses in front of the company’s newest contraption, the cavitator, which transforms waste vegetable oil into biodiesel. Photo by Margaret Williams

Blue Ridge Biofuels recently announced that the high-grade is available at its West Asheville station and is coming soon to Black Mountain and Weaverville. “Now that we’re in the summer months, we can sell B99.9,” says Office Manager Melita Kyriakou.

It’s no coincidence that the stuff hits the streets in mid-May, when the danger of late frosts has dropped to near zero in Western North Carolina: Biodiesel (particularly the higher-grade products) can jell when temperatures get below freezing, she explains. That’s bad for engines, but the fuel outdoes petroleum diesel on several fronts: lower air emissions, higher engine lubricity, longer engine life and better performance (high-grade biodiesel can boost fuel efficiency, for example), Kyriakou maintains. And the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that biodiesel made from recycled vegetable oil reduces greenhouse-gas emissions by about 80 percent compared with petroleum diesel, she notes.

What’s more, says Kyriakou, Blue Ridge gets half its waste vegetable oil from sources in Western North Carolina and the rest from elsewhere around the Southeast. Processing it all in Asheville, meanwhile, supports the local economy instead of shipping waste oil out of state to companies that use it to make animal feed and cosmetics, she emphasizes. (Blue Ridge needs to sign up a few more local restaurants before the product can be deemed completely local.) Last year, a $250,000 loan from the North Carolina Biofuels Center enabled the company to buy new equipment, boosting production while increasing efficiency, and a $77,737 grant from the N.C. Green Business Fund supports the manufacturer’s research into the use of low-quality waste products such as grease-trap oil, notes Kyriakou.

As a result, Blue Ridge anticipates increasing production from the current 250,000 gallons per year to 1.4 million by 2010, she reports. The company has also been able to significantly cut prices, making its products more competitive with petroleum diesel, says Kyriakou.

Sounding off

Local residents who are demanding a cleanup of the CTS site on Mills Gap Road remind us that state Department of Environment and Natural Resources officials will be taking public comment on a proposed agreement with the Elkhardt, Ind.-based company through Friday, May 15. A copy of the agreement is available for review at Pack Memorial Library (67 Haywood St. in Asheville) or online at Written comments may be submitted to: Ms. Bonnie S. Ware, project manager, Superfund Section, N.C. Division of Waste Management, 585 Waughtown St., Winston-Salem NC 27107.

B99.9 is “the most pure biodiesel you can sell, legally,” she explains, though engines and furnaces typically require modification to burn grades above B20. The very qualities that make biodiesel such an effective engine lubricant can also ruin some fuel lines, for example.

So the next time you give in to a fried-food craving, you may not be doing your waistline a favor, but you could be helping heat your neighbor’s home or fueling your co-worker’s vehicle. And depending on what you drive, it could even end up in your own tank.
For more information, go to, or call Melita Kyriakou at 253-1034 ext. 114.

Bulb us

Compact-fluorescent light bulbs last a good while, but like everything else, they eventually expire. And although they’re more energy-efficient than incandescents, CFLs do contain a small amount of mercury, which can be released in vapor form when they break, according to the city’s latest recycling brochure. So instead of dumping dead ones in the trash, why not take them to your local fire station? (See list below.) You can even hand over the remains of broken bulbs and standard fluorescents (but don’t use a vacuum cleaner, city officials caution: It will spread noxious vapors and contaminate the appliance).

Despite those caveats, the twisty bulbs are 100 percent recyclable. So if one breaks, sweep the contents into a sealable plastic bag, wipe the area with a wet paper towel or cloth, seal the bag and bring it to the nearest participating fire station. (Note: The drop-off program is strictly for residents, not businesses or schools.)

Participating fire stations
• Asheville No. 2 and No. 11
• Beaverdam
• Black Mountain
• Enka/Candler (two sites)
• Fairview
• Reems Creek
• Reynolds
• Riceville
• Skyland
• Swannanoa
• Weaverville

You can also drop off defunct CFLs and regular fluorescent bulbs at the customer-service counters of Home Depot stores, or buy a kit from Waste Management Inc. For mail-in recycling, go to

Send your environmental news to, or call 251-1333, ext. 152.

About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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2 thoughts on “The Green Scene

  1. Mitchxout

    The article stated, “engines need modifications to run blends above B20. This would be false, false, false. Any diesel engine can run any blend. Also, while it’s true biodiesel dissolves rubber fuel lines it’s a gradual process and only applies to older vehicles.

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