SNV Story No. 2: Will we soon be heating with purified used cooking oil?

Expert profile of environmental scientist Markus Wilke

Together with Graubünden-based scientist Marcel Caminada the Ticino-based environmental scientist Markus Wilke has developed a new technology which makes it possible to burn biogenic fuels – such as purified used cooking oil – with minimal emissions in standard oil heaters. This technology has undergone successful testing for conformity with the Swiss Ordinance on Air Pollution Control (OAPC; Luftreinhalte-Verordnung, LVR) by the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN). In order to ensure various different biogenic fuels can be used in future, a standardized testing procedure is to be implemented for these natural fuels. In order to get an appropriate standard in place as soon as possible, Markus Wilke has declared himself willing to play a role in devising this standard in his capacity as an expert.

The SNV visited Markus Wilke in his Hotel Vezia near Lugano which he runs together with his wife Conny Wilke and spoke to him about his work as an expert and this global first in innovative technology.

Image caption: Environmental scientist Markus Wilke in his Hotel Vezia in Vezia

1. SNV: How did you come up with the idea of converting traditional oil heaters for use with biogenic fuels?
Markus Wilke: There are two ways in which used cooking oil can be put to environmentally friendly use: either by adapting the fuel to the technology – as is the case with biodiesel – or by adapting the technology to the fuel. That’s what we’ve done with our Green Power burners. We distribute the burner, which can be fitted with minimal effort to traditional oil heaters to enable CO2-neutral heating.

2. Where do you source the biogenic fuels?
The used cooking oil is collected in restaurants and hotels and then purified by us and our partner companies. Thus, from waste comes a product that can be reused to generate energy.

Thus far, public collection points do not separate cooking oil from mineral oil, which is why oil from private households cannot be used. In Ticino, we have just launched a pilot project with some communes, whereby private households too can dispose of their used cooked oil in corresponding containers for reprocessing. This process is especially environmentally friendly since this form of disposal even eliminates greater travel distances.

3. How did you end up working as an expert?
Our development has to conform with the requirements of the Swiss Ordinance on Air Pollution Control (OAPC). As such the quality of the fuel must be subject to a standard (or a rule if need be) that defines the parameters for biogenic fuels. Since there are no relevant international or European standards, Swiss rule SNR 10500 is now being devised. Of course, I have a major interest in this rule being implemented as soon as possible. That’s why I declared my willingness from the outset to use my knowledge and take an active role in the drafting of this rule. I head up the project group for this Swiss rule and I’m in close consultation with the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN). I’m also a member of the expert group for bio heating oil which meets every two months to work on adapting the Swiss heating oil standard SN 181160-2 with a view to integrating bio heating oil (H20), based on heating oil/FAME* mixtures, in the existing standard.

* FAME = fatty acid methyl esters.

4. What is it hoped will be achieved with this rule?
This rule is intended to define parameters to be applied to the purity and storage stability of biogenic fuels.

5. What are the challenges?
Our development is a world first in its form. So, as well as being confronted with technical questions, we have a lot of work to do providing information, convincing people and conveying our knowledge. Just recently, it was established in an almost one-year test at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland in Windisch that our technology guarantees complete combustion and thus low-emission exhaust gases, something which is also a key factor for health. These laborious processes do require a lot of time and effort, but we know that only through extensive educational work can we eliminate the uncertainties and clear the way for this promising technology.
That’s why I’m only too happy to dedicate my knowledge to the standardization process.

6. Will you revolutionize heating technology with your burner?
At the moment, the burner is of course most interesting in connection with its potential use with oil heaters – which no longer have any support politically. I am convinced that there will also be a mix of renewable energies in future. Regardless of which technology we look at – the resources wouldn’t be sufficient to continue heating using one single method.

7. When will the Swiss rule be ready?
I anticipate that work on rule SNR 10500 will be finished in spring 2020.

The Green Power burner – heating with liquid biogenic fuels

Marcel Caminada and Markus Wilke’s idea actually sounds quite simple: in Switzerland, especially in the tourism cantons of Ticino and Graubünden, restaurants and hotels offer an abundance of used cooking oil. Instead of being transported throughout Europe for processing, it will be purified regionally as far as possible and then also reused regionally. More and more catering businesses are supporting this concept and making an active contribution to the protection of the environment by supplying their used cooking oil. This eliminates the need for transport to other European processing units.

The idea is based on a sophisticated technological system. The centrepiece of the Green Power burner is an extremely innovative atomization system which sprays the (difficult to atomize) processed used cooking oil so finely that the oil can be combusted in aerosol form.

Image caption: The Green Power burner is fitted directly to existing oil heaters quite simply.

Rising costs of oil heaters
The burner created by the two developers is fitted to traditional oil heaters. Instead of fossil heating oil, the oil tank is now filled with purified vegetable oil. This saves the hassle of having to remove the entire heating system. The burner is also unique in that it can be adapted to heating requirements without any need for conversion. Traditional oil burners always burn at the same rate, even if, for example, a house has been renovated and better insulated in the meantime. The Green Power burner on the other hand can also be run at an output of 5 kW. Markus Wilke expects heating costs to soar in light of the increased CO2 tax and that, as a result, the alternative with biogenic fuels will gain in importance dramatically.

Temporary solution for lease
The environmental scientist Markus Wilke and his partner Marcel Caminada are convinced of the marketability of their burner, of which they have already sold and installed several. As such, they have been able to confirm the long-term functionality. Since the burner can also be envisaged as a temporary solution, they are also offering their product for lease. The concept exceeds the requirements of the model regulations of the cantons in the energy sector (MuKEn).

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