As New Standards for Renewable Fuels are Announced, Discovery Highlights the Biodiesel Industry in "Hot Grease"

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11 November 2017
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Hot Grease
Courtesy of Discovery
"Hot Grease"
Premieres Thursday, November 16 at 9 PM ET/PT
on Discovery
 
          The millions of gallons of cooking oil that our country’s restaurants use to fry up chicken, fries, and donuts used to end up as waste in landfills and pollutants in our waterways. But today, thanks to a motley crew of innovators, entrepreneurs, and politicians, it’s turned into fuel: biodiesel. Traditionally made from soy, biodiesel powers cars, industrial vehicles, and keeps fleets of buses and trucks moving.  Most surprisingly, biodiesel reduces carbon emissions up to 85% compared to petroleum fuel, the equivalent of removing over 19 million cars from our highways.

          Set in Houston, Texas in the shadow of the nation's oil industry, HOT GREASE tells the surprising story of how the biodiesel industry is turning an ostensibly worthless raw material—spent kitchen grease—into a renewable energy source capable of fueling cars, buses and fleets of trucks throughout the country. But, powerful forces are working to stop that from happening. Featuring innovators, entrepreneurs, grease collectors and supporters like Senator Al Franken (D-MN) and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), HOT GREASE follows the battle for biodiesel’s future and its very survival. 

          In 2007, under President George W. Bush, the U.S. Federal Government passed the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) to become “less addicted to foreign sources of energy for the purposes of running the American economy.” The RFS requires oil refiners to blend biodiesel into their petroleum-based diesel, offsetting billions of gallons of crude oil and creating a marketplace for biodiesel.

 
Hot Grease Courtesy of Discovery
 
          HOT GREASE travels the streets of Houston and the halls of Washington, DC, highlighting the people who are hustling to make an honest living in this industry.  Nothing exemplifies this entrepreneurial spirit more than 32-year-old Justin Heller of Root Fuel.  A native of New York, Heller has a deep passion for protecting the environment and successfully switched the municipal truck fleet of San Francisco over to biodiesel.  “We are unbelievably under utilizing our ability to produce and distribute biodiesel into our fuel stream,” states Heller. “There has to be a fuel revolution.” 
 
        Donnie Tipton, of Going Green Grease Recycling, who travels the back streets and alley ways after hours to restaurants collecting his clients’ used grease, describes how he hopes to grow the business where he can pay his bills and “help other people pay their bills.”  However, the success of his business along with others is slowed down because of grease theft. Being a raw material for biodiesel production, used cooking oil is now a commodity. Because the “Biodiesel is a great green business,” explains Jim Eberle of Eberle Biodiesel.  “…But there is the dirty side of this business…..We had nine boxes stolen last year alone.”
 
          Eberle, who has no college degree, started a career in biodiesel 10 years ago.  Now he has a full-pledged business that is making a difference “one gallon at a time.”  He explains how, “When you see that (difference), you understand how that touches your soul.”  Forever a business person, Eberle is a realist and states “there is such an untapped market for biodiesel. We have to constantly be thinking outside the box, can we do something better?” 
 
Hot Grease
Courtesy of Discovery
 
          It is this entrepreneurial spirit that brings upon new jobs.  As Gene Gebolys, founder and CEO of World Energy states, “Clearly, where job growth in energy is coming from, it's from the newer forms of energy.”  And while new jobs are a driving factor for many looking to expand the biodiesel industry, a healthy environment for people and their children is another reason many have dedicated their lives to this renewable energy.  “For me, I want to leave it (our world) better,” explains Jessica Robinson, of the National Biodiesel Board.  I want to teach my kids to leave it better. That's a value that I hold. I hope it's a value that Americans hold.”

          Over the past decade, the volumes of biodiesel and ethanol in the fuel supply have risen or at least been steady, creating jobs for this new industry. In late November 2017, the EPA will issue the first RFS volumes under the current administration.  The current leadership of the EPA had initially signaled they would drastically reduce the biodiesel volumes. However, in October 2017, after much back and forth, they pledged to maintain current biodiesel numbers. While that sounds promising, in recent years the levels have remained stagnant, stunting growth and leaving many wondering what will become of this industry.

         Renewable fuel is one of a handful of issues Congress members on opposite sides of the aisle can agree. Franken describes this “American made” product as a “fight that we have been fighting. It's bipartisan.”  Likewise, Congresswoman Kristi Noem (R-SD) explains how, “Sometimes, in Washington D.C., it's hard to find something that Republicans and Democrats can come together and agree on.”  Biodiesel seems to be that issue. 
 
 

 
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