BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

28 October 2014
Inside Out: Surprising Stories, Familiar Places

BBC Homepage
Inside Out
East Midlands
North East
North West
South East
South West
West Midlands
Yorks & Lincs
Go to BBC1 programmes page (image: BBC1 logo)

Contact Us

   Inside Out - London - Monday January 16, 2006

Chip fat fuel

Chips and oil
Chip fat - the new alternative to crude oil?

London is at the forefront of an energy revolution.

A new and revolutionary process means that chip fat can be converted into diesel oil.

In future, our favourite national dish could oil the wheels of industry and might even find its way into our car engines!

As London faces tough EU restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions due to come into force in the next few years, Thalia Pellegrini reports on the search for more eco-friendly sources of fuel.

Oil mountain

Terry Woo owns a fish and chip shop in Bromley. He is doing well and business is good.

But there’s a growing by-product of Terry’s success - used cooking oil. The busier he gets, the more fat he accumulates:

"I use about 60 litres of cooking oil a week – from this I have about 20-25 litres of waste oil to get rid of."
Terry Woo

Terry Woo
Terry Woo has 20 litres of fat to dispose of weekly

It’s not just a problem for chip shops. Terry faces a common problem that many food-associated businesses also have - how to dispose of so much left over cooking oil?

In London more than 50 million litres of used fat is produced each year. In the past it was all taken off their hands for free, ending up on farms to be added to animal feeds.

However fears over BSE forced the Government to ban this practice.

Businesses now have to pay to have it taken away and disposed of at landfill sites. This costs about £15 each time they collect it.

For Terry this means twice monthly visits and over a year the cost adds up. It’s a cost he’d obviously rather not pay.

Down the drain

Not all catering firms are as diligent as Terry's. They do not want the extra costs and hassle of arranging for their waste oil to be collected.

Oil being poured down drain
Down the drain - the dilemma of oil disposal

Some opt from the easier option of pouring it down the drain. But this causes huge environmental problems – it’s also illegal.

Cooking fat solidifies in the sewers. If it’s left, it will eventually block the pipes – preventing toilet waste and dirty water from flushing through.

It can even causing flooding. Thames Water currently spends £3.8m a year clearing these blockages.

They have to break up the fat with a high powered jet, suck it into a tank and take to a landfill site.

Jeff Farrow
Blockage problems - Jeff Farrow from Thames Water

Jeff Farrow from Thames Water is overseeing the latest emptying of a sewer:

"Most of the problems come from typical London streets with lots of restaurants and take-aways all in the same place; unfortunately some of them do discharge fat, oil and grease into the sewer.

"We try and educate them, to work with them to help them stop putting the grease down there; but we will have to prosecute if someone decides not to follow the rules."

However, there’s a new solution that could prevent the expensive clean up operations and legal prosecutions.

There is a new scheme that turns fat into oil.

From fat to fuel

The fat is put through a revolutionary new process which transforms it into a form of fuel called bio diesel.

It’s environmentally friendly and will run most diesel cars.

For the last few months Terry has taken part in a scheme that collects his fat for free so it can be turned into car fuel.

Karl Thorne from Bromley council says, "we collect the oil, then it’s taken back to the yard where we process it.

"Because it’s a free service, they’re obviously saving money and there are environmental benefits too as we are able to recycle it".

"I think it’s brilliant. I don’t have to pay for it and the Council get what they want. I get rid of the stuff I don’t want. It’s good for both parties".
Terry Woo, fish and chip shop owner

In the whole of the UK there are only a handful of companies making bio diesel from used cooking fat.

Global Commodities in Norfolk is one such company.

They produce over 200,000 litres of bio diesel a week using oil from restaurants, take-aways and crisp factories.

Dennis Thouless explains the process:

"The oil comes to us in containers, we take it into the factory where we put chemicals with it to turn it into bio diesel. This is then pumped out then stored in tanks and from there out to fuel and transport companies".

There is no waste at all from this process- there is the bio diesel, there is glycerine and fatty acids which can be central heating oil.

Chip fuelled cars

Dennis presents Thalia with a finished bottle of bio diesel. He tells her, "you can put this in your diesel car - it will run your car with no modifications at all. Just pour it in".

Bio diesel vehicle
Out of the frying pan and into the van!

Thalia asks if it will do any damage to her engine. "No", says Dennis... "except make it run better".

Southwark Council are the first local authority to use bio diesel fuel to run its fleet.

They currently use it in 65 of its vehicles but hope to double this figure in the coming months.

Phil Davies from Southwark Council says they have come up against manufacturers saying they can’t put plant fuel into the vehicles:

"But now a lot of companies are thinking about it seriously and they’re getting involved in the testing. It’s a step forward but there was resistance in the first instance."

They’ve found it gives off less harmful emissions than ordinary diesel, and is improving local air quality.

Bromley's bio-diesel

A few miles away in Bromley the local council also want to start using bio diesel. But they plan to go a stage further.

From Spring 2006 used cooking fat will be collected and then converted on site into bio diesel for use in local authority vehicles only.

Larry Parker
Larry Parker says London could be a trail blazer

This will the first bio diesel production plant based in a city environment anywhere in the UK.

Larry Parker of Sustainable Energy Action has been campaigning for the last few years to get the plant built.

He says it will be fantastic for London, "It will be a trailblazer - this will be a totally locally sustainable model whereby you’re using the waste resource, and transforming it into a high quality product".

The Government is also starting to support the use of bio diesel – there is a tax break on it and they have released a renewable transport fuels obligation.

This will mean that we will have to use more bio fuel in the future. It is starting to be taken seriously.

In London there are currently just two places where ordinary motorists can buy bio diesel.

In France and Germany however they are much further ahead, it’s sold on most forecourts.

We are catching up fast – in the next 10 years most of us could be filling up our cars with used chip fat oil.

Links relating to this story:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites


Ballet - tough at the top

Ballet dancers
Dancing through the pain barrier but do ballerinas risk injury?

Sadie Nine relives her dancing youth watching pupils going through their practice at the Central School of Ballet in London.

They all make the dancing look graceful and effortless – but beneath the smiles the physical demands of ballet are punishing.

A recent study of over 60 different sports revealed that ballet topped the list as the most physically and mentally demanding – even beating figure skating and gymnastics.

Sara Matthews, Assistant Director at the school, explains:

"The pupils expect their bodies to go through a lot of tough motions, such as legs up round their ears, flexing their knees fully, bearing their body weight onto one leg with another raised in the air and landing in certain positions".

Dancer on points
Perfect pointe but at what cost to the dancer?

The injury rate is high too. Eight out of 10 dancers can expect to get hurt in some way during the course of a year.

The big dance academies can afford to employ dance specialist physiotherapists like Heidi Neish-Welsh to help their dancers stay in shape.

But many aspiring dancers don’t have the medical back up available to students at the big ballet schools.

The Central School of Ballet insist that a dancer’s physical welfare is now taken much more seriously.

But the world of ballet remains hugely competitive and the pressure on dancers isn’t just physical – it’s mental too.

Today choreographers are asking more and more from the dancers and it is up to the dance trainers and dance educators to train the dancers to cope with that increasing range of challenge.

But whatever the levels of support for dancers, ballet remains a profession where only the strong survive.

Jazz photographer

Photographer David Redfern
All that jazz - David Redfern catalogues the jazz greats

London has long had associations with the world of jazz – all the greats from Duke Ellington to John Coltrane and Miles Davis have appeared in the capital's clubs.

One man has snapped them all over the past 47 years.

With a click of the shutter David Redfern has documented jazz history in the capital and indeed across the world.

The secret to David’s success is being in the right place at the right time whether in the front of the stage or backstage.

Sumit Bose visited him at his gallery in Latimer Road to take a look at his life his life behind the lens.

He also joins David on a photo shoot with rising star Jamie Cullum at Ronnie Scott’s legendary jazz club.

BBC Where I Live

Find local news, entertainment, debate and more ...

Free email updates

Keep in touch and receive your free and informative Inside Out updates.

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy