Looking for Gold in Biofuel
Rumpelstiltskin has nothing on Westway Towing owner Craig Goldstein, who plans to turn the waste vegetable oil he collects from hundreds of restaurants and food service vendors into his own “liquid gold.”
Last year, Goldstein started a side business, Oil Recovery Interests, which collects the used oil from food operations from Miami to Tampa, including vendors at Sun Life Stadium, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Woodfield Country Club in Boca Raton.
The company has been storing and cleaning the oil in tanks at his towing and auto-body facilities on Oakland Park Boulevard, then selling it to companies that make biodiesel fuel or that add the oil to fatten up livestock.
That’s just the first step for Goldstein.
No longer content with being the middleman, he wants to start a biodiesel plant at his location. He would use the biodiesel to fuel his fleet of 40 tow trucks and market it to others, he said.
“It’s environmentally friendly,” he said, adding that the federal government provides $2.50 in tax credits and renewable energy certificates for every gallon produced. “It’s the wave of the future.”
Turning used french-fry oil into truck fuel sounds like something out of Back to the Future, says employee Deron Key, recalling when Christopher Lloyd’s character, Doc Brown, returns from the future and is able to use banana peels and other garbage to fuel his time-traveling DeLorean.
“That’s what I see. That’s awesome,” said Key, who found out about the operation after being hired to paint some of the tanks.
But Goldstein, who already has purchased the plant equipment and has it on-site, can’t start up the business unless city commissioners allow it as an acceptable use in his zoning. In fact, even storing the waste oil on-site is a code violation. City officials said they weren’t aware of the situation until a fire marshal came across the storage tanks during an annual inspection.
Commissioners were supportive of Goldstein last week when he explained his plans to them.
“What do we have to do to make this happen?” Commissioner Levoyd Williams asked city staff. “I just want to get it done. Have a timeline.”
City Attorney James Brady urged caution, saying the city needs to make sure the proposal is compatible with nearby single-family homes.
“I certainly don’t know anything about this industry,” Brady said. “I think there’s a lot of public relations work that will be necessitated by this venture.”
While Goldstein said the waste oil does not pose a danger, the methanol needed to turn it into biodiesel is highly flammable.
Josh Simon, Goldstein’s partner in the venture who sold him the equipment, said the amount of methanol on-site would be minimal, 300 gallons at most at any time. The plant would operate outdoors, further minimizing risks, he said, and be “more than a football field” away from any homes..
Goldstein said his company collects about 30,000 gallons of oil a month and Simon anticipates producing at most 2,500 gallons of biodiesel a week, which would be about 130,000 gallons a year.
That’s a small fraction of the 3.6 million gallons that can be produced at Greenwave Biodiesel in Fort Lauderdale, which opened last year.