Originally Published in Biodiesel Magazine, December 15, 2022
Something Big is Coming
City by city, Greasezilla is conquering problems derived from excessive fats, oils and grease waste.
By Keith Loria | December 15, 2022
When fats, oils and grease (FOG) separation technology Greasezilla was developed by Downey Ridge Environmental Co. nearly 20 years ago, the system was never expected to become the impressive solution it has for wastewater treatment sites needing to manage the overabundance of FOG created by food establishments and industrial food production facilities worldwide. Ron Crosier, president of the Lansing, West Virginia-based company, has been in the liquid waste business—particularly with grease trap service—since 1995, and has witnessed the evolution of FOG treatment solutions. “Early on, we used existing technologies to deal with and dispose of grease trap waste—dewatering and landfilling—which were labor intensive and expensive with regard to polymers and landfill tipping fees,” he explains. “Another method we used was composting, which wasn’t the worst, but it was also very labor intensive.”
Eventually, the company started to use sawdust as a bulking agent. However, the advent of wood pellets brought sawdust prices from little-to-nothing, to too expensive to make sense for the job. “Rather than reverting back to drying boxes or any other dewatering technologies, we realized that if we could remove the brown grease component from grease trap waste, then the rest of the product was easy to dispose of,” Crosier says. “We knew there was some value in the brown grease, if for no other reason than the Btus that were in it.”
That led to the development of Greasezilla in 2008, though the company had no intention of marketing it at first; it simply looked to solve its own grease problem. Through contacts Crosier had in the sanitation industry, he realized that there was more value to the Greasezilla technology than just helping the company’s own interests. “We invested a significant amount of money and research and development to get to the place we had gotten to,” Crosier says. “We successfully applied for a patent and began marketing the technology to haulers. We sold a few units between 2010 and 2015, but quickly learned haulers just wanted to haul.”
The lightbulb went off that the real market for Greasezilla was most likely in the wastewater treatment industry, though the company knew it would need to make some changes to the system.“We did some engineering, especially in regards to automation, and sought out some investment capital, and relaunched a few years later,” Crosier says.
Understanding the Technology
Greasezilla’s ability to turn the problem of FOG waste into a sustainable energy source addresses larger infrastructure, environmental and energy issues. “We take grease trap waste, which is generally difficult to dispose of because of the brown grease, which is very detrimental to the ecology of anaerobic digesters. It doesn’t break down in wastewater plants and typically will pass through, with the only change being it’s been somewhat diluted,” Crosier says. “Some wastewater treatment plants are able to decant grease trap waste somewhat and then incinerate the grease, but that causes a lot of damage to the incinerators.”
Greasezilla’s hydronic thermal system takes grease trap waste in its trucked-in form and separates it without any polymers, flocculants or chemical treatment. The brown grease layer is automatically pumped off, measured and stored, with the remaining products sent to the headworks or anaerobic digesters. “There will be three layers of product in the Greasezilla reactors—the brown grease, the batter later—all other food particles—and water,” Crosier says. “The brown grease that our system produces will have a moisture content of under 1 percent, generally closer to half percent, so it is ready as a feedstock for biodiesel the moment it comes off the system.”
The heat for refining is generated by burning a small portion of the brown grease that is captured. “Our system uses less than 5 percent of the fuel it creates to generate heat, and therefore is very efficient,” Crosier says. “The brown grease you do burn to generate the heat burns very cleanly, much cleaner than petroleum fuel.”
Greasezilla’s standard two-tank reactor system requires a footprint of only 1,000 square feet and is easily scalable by adding additional reactor tanks and boilers. There are usually no permitting issues because of the manageably sized boilers.
While there are certainly lots of companies in the grease trap waste processing space today, nearly all of them are trying to simply separate grease and solids from water, Crosier says, typically creating two waste streams from one. Downey Ridge Environmental knows of no other technology that does what Greasezilla accomplishes with anywhere close to the quality and cost, a pledge that Jacobs Engineering confirmed.
Downey Ridge Environmental is so confident in Greasezilla’s return on investment, the company offer systems at no cost and revenue share with wastewater treatment plants to recoup cost. These private-public ventures are of great interest to many waste management plants. “We were set back a little because of COVID-19, but we will have close to 20 units in place by the end of 2022 and will double that by the end of next year,” Crosier says. “Expanding across several verticals—from wastewater treatment facilities to haulers, biodiesel refineries and even directly with food processors—is something we have had an eye on since the beginning.”
And rather than selling equity in the company, Downy Ridge decided that a few years of selling systems for proof of concept to demonstrate would make it much easier to raise capital. “We now have a number of capital groups wanting to invest in our growth plans, and we feel the time is right to bring in institutional and private equity to build out our footprint, which is well underway,” Crosier says.
Hampton Roads Sanitation District, which provides regional wastewater treatment to 20 cities and counties in southeast Virginia, is nearing completion of its state-of-the-art FOG receiving facility at its Nansemond Treatment Plant in Suffolk, Virginia, with operation expected in the spring of 2023. HRSD will utilize Greasezilla to separate and process FOG into advanced biofuel. “They have built everything from the ground up to support this process,” Crosier says. “Most of our customers incorporate our technology into their existing infrastructure; HRSD has built everything—a receiving station, a decanting operation with brand new tanks—it’s a very elaborate facility.”
Chris Wilson, HRSD’s chief of process engineering and research, notes an assured outlet for HRSD’s brown grease derived biofuel was a primary driver of its selection of Downey Ridge and Greasezilla, as the company differentiated itself with its demonstrated knowledge of the commodity markets for biofuels. “The Greasezilla equipment will allow HRSD to better allocate our existing personnel and treatment facilities by diverting hard-to-manage grease waste from the influent of the highly advanced Nansemond Treatment Plant,” Wilson says. “Greasezilla will be part of a dedicated facility within the Nansemond Treatment Plant purposefully designed to manage this challenging waste source and to produce a valuable biofuel product.”
As 2022 winds down, Downey Ridge Environmental sees a continuous increase in demand for the ecological system and the brown grease it produces. Currently, the company is working closely with wastewater treatment sites in New England, New York, New Jersey, the mid-Atlantic, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida and Texas, and expects to install a minimum of 10 new systems at wastewater plants by the end of 2023. “The production of the brown grease is just a wonderful side benefit to our technology,” Crosier says. “The primary purpose is to provide an efficient way of processing grease trap waste.”
Looking ahead further, Crosier would like to have a network of grease trap waste receiving stations all around the country, particularly around the coastal regions.
“I would also like to see us be more involved in exporting our technology,” he says. “We’ve been working heavily on exporting this technology to Mexico, South America and the Caribbean, and hopefully Asia and Australia as well.”