Liquid Gold: This cafe has a creative solution to beat rising fuel prices. And it smells like hot chips

An outback Queensland city is tongue-tied with an inventive solution to combat high fuel prices – and it smells like hot chips.

Dozens of barrels of deep fryer oil sit next to a set of industrial vehicles, behind the Red Door Cafe in Clonakuri, in the state’s northwest.

The cafe is a social enterprise that trains and employs youth in its restaurant and nearby warehouse.

Running an organization isn’t cheap, there are forklifts to draw electricity from diesel and generators.

So the managers did some research and found that the deep fryer oil they use in cafe kitchens can be converted to their liquid gold version – biodiesel.

Oil cans on a tablet in the foreground, plastic tanks containing oil in the background.
Some of the oil cans used in the filtration system can be seen on the back of the barrel.,ABC North West Queensland: Larissa Waterson,

“We had some of the leftover oil from the cafe and we weren’t sure what to do with it,” said Red Door’s Paul Bashford.

“It took us a period of trial and error for six months or so.”

Eventually, the team set up a system to convert canola oil into a biofuel.

“Essentially we are taking all the solids out of the oil and then we are de-watering it,” Mr Bashford said.

“We set up a lot of settling tanks so that the process can happen naturally and then at the end we treat it to make sure nothing organic is growing in there.”

Since the biofuel is thicker than the average diesel and petrol products, the team runs it in their equipment in a 50:50 ratio with diesel fuel.

man fills tractor's petrol tank
The filtered oil is mixed with the diesel before use.,ABC North West Queensland: Larissa Waterson,

Mr Bashford estimated that the set-up, and trial-and-error phase, cost the business a few thousand dollars.

But the money they are saving as a result is well worth it.

“At present, with the price of diesel, [we’re] maybe [saving] A fair bit,” he said.

“We’ve saved at least 50 percent of our fuel bill and we have other people interested in buying a finished product from us.”

man in gray shirt holds a jug of golden liquid with a bright blue wall behind him
This domestic biofuel project is converting fryer oil into liquid gold, says Paul Bashford.,ABC North West Queensland: Larissa Waterson,

save other businesses

Biofuels isn’t just cutting costs for the Red Door.

Businesses around the city now have somewhere to dump their oil waste instead of paying to have it trucked away.

Woman wearing black shirt smiles at camera inside pub
Lores Chandler saves money by giving her oil waste to the Red Door Cafe.,ABC North West Queensland: Larissa Waterson,

Each week, Lords Chandler, the owner of the Central Hotel in Clonakuri, carried 40 liters of the hotel’s oil waste to Mount Isa, 120 km away.

“Any used cooking oil is regulated waste, so we had a lot of problems trying to dispose of it,” she said.

“In Cloncurry, nowhere, I have known for a long time, people were taking it to the dump, which is just an environmental hazard.

Man ties oil box to back of ute in front of pub.
Red Door workers collect old oil pods from businesses throughout Clonakry. ,ABC North West Queensland: Larissa Waterson,

“It’s a big expense and it’s a huge inconvenience, with oil pods sitting around, you don’t have room for it.

“Any expense is a burden at the moment… eventually you have to pass it on to your customer in some way,” she said.

opportunity to decarbonize

Australia uses 32 billion liters of diesel annually.

With just three biofuel refineries across the country holding a total of 100 million liters of product, the current industry is barely making a dent in consumption.

The industry wants to see investment from federal and state governments to develop the sector.

Future Fuels manager Simon Roycroft said Australia was easily missing out on an opportunity to generate low-carbon electricity.

man standing side by side
Simon Roycroft says other countries have started to move forward with biofuels.,ABC North West Queensland,

“Look at North America, especially the United States – that industry has flourished, it has a lot of government policies, incentives, subsidies to be able to support the growth of that industry,” Mr. Roycroft said.

The EU biofuels market regularly buys Australian canola oil to convert to biofuels.

“While we believe the role of electric vehicles and hydrogen as a whole [in decarbonisation]And we’re excited for that, they’re still far from full commercialization and it’s too expensive to make these changes.”

For Mr Bashford at the Red Door Café, the demand for biofuels is only getting hotter.

“We’ve taken interest from other businesses looking to buy the final product,” he said.

“We are currently looking at options to increase capacity here to produce more.”

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