At an upscale restaurant in China’s hotpot-loving city of Chengdu, diners plunge sliced meats and vegetables into cauldrons of spicy, oily soup as the leftovers seek a second life as jet fuel. I hardly notice that it’s there.
About 150,000 tons of used pot oil is thrown away by the city’s restaurants every year, but local company Sichuan Jinsho Environmental Protection Co., Ltd. will process the oily waste and export it to be turned into aviation fuel. Found a niche market.
“Our motto is to let the oil out of the gutter fly into the sky,” the company’s general manager Ye Bin told AFP.
Ye said his company, which he founded in 2017, currently produces up to 150,000 tons of industrial oil a year from a combination of hotpot restaurants and other eateries across Chengdu, including KFC stores. .
On a typical night, collectors hired by gold dealers visit hundreds of restaurants around major cities in the Southwest.
The process begins immediately after the customer leaves, when the waiter transfers the pot of soup (so thick that it is used purely as a cooking medium) to a special filter that separates oil and water.
Collectors wearing thick aprons and elbow-length rubber gloves arrive to pick up jerry cans of scarlet grease.
“It’s a great job. We play mahjong during the day and work at night,” one collector named Zheng told AFP as he packed containers of pungent sludge into his minivan.
The sludge is then transported to a business park on the outskirts of the city, where Kinsho’s nearly spotless factory is based.
The only traces of oil are the faint smell of pots in the loading dock and telltale orange stains on the bottom of some equipment.
The oil is piped into huge tanks and undergoes a refining process that removes residual moisture and impurities, resulting in a clear, yellowish, industrial-grade oil.
It will be exported to customers primarily based in Europe, the United States and Singapore, who will further process it to produce what industry insiders call “sustainable aviation fuel” (SAF).
SAF is essential to decarbonizing the aviation sector, which accounted for 2% of global energy-related CO2 emissions in 2022, according to the International Energy Agency.
However, due to processing costs and a relatively small number of suppliers, they are not yet widely used, accounting for less than 0.1 percent of all aviation fuel consumed.
The International Air Transport Association estimates that its widespread implementation could “contribute to around 65% of the emissions reductions aviation needs to reach net zero in 2050.”
Jinshang plans to soon expand its own SAF production facility to produce 300,000 tons per year using equipment from US company Honeywell.
～Food loss problem～
Jinshan’s business model is part of China’s broader efforts to tackle the mountain of food waste produced by its 1.4 billion people.
According to a 2021 Nature study, around 350 million tonnes of agricultural produce, more than a quarter of annual production, is wasted domestically each year, discarded by restaurants, supermarkets and consumers.
In landfills, rotting food waste releases methane gas that warms the atmosphere faster than most other materials, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
This is a major headache for Chinese cities and a major threat to global climate goals. The Chinese government has vowed to tackle this with a recent methane emissions plan that calls for building innovative food waste treatment projects across the country over the next few years.
Shanghai’s municipal waste treatment facility relies on humble black soldiers to turn tons of food waste into fertilizer and animal feed each year.
The Laogang Waste Treatment Plant is home to 500 million maggots living in cavernous, sealed rooms, munching on up to 2,500 tons of food waste every day, said Wu Yufeng, the factory’s deputy director. He is said to be eating.
The wriggling larvae excrete a fine black earth-like substance that is recycled as fertilizer, but the larvae themselves are killed and harvested when they are at their fullest size to be turned into livestock feed.
Back in Chengdu, Dong, a hot pot fan, is relieved that Dinner will lead a long and fruitful life.
“It is more beneficial to use and circulate waste throughout society,” he told AFP.