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D.C. Biodiesel Entrepreneur Sees Fuel's Future In Fryer Grease

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The inside of the kitchen at Birch and Barley restaurant, which is going to start handing over fryer grease to Wendell Jenkins' biofuels company.
Jessica Gould
The inside of the kitchen at Birch and Barley restaurant, which is going to start handing over fryer grease to Wendell Jenkins' biofuels company.

When Wendell Jenkins hit his mid-life a few years ago, he began searching for meaning.

"We never had kids," he says. "When I went through a divorce, I was like, 'What am I going to do to leave my legacy?'"

Then Jenkins found just the legacy he was looking for at the bottom of a frying pan.

"To take waste vegetable oil, process that and make biodiesel out of it for the diesel fleets in the National Capital Region," he says.

He hopes the fuel produced by his new company, D.C. Biofuels, will have broad applications. "It could be school buses, DPW vehicles, emergency vehicles, generators, you name it if it's diesel powered, we want to have biodiesel in there," Jenkins says.

All it takes is a factory to transform the sizzling stuff into fuel, and lots of grease.

He already has a space in mind for the factory, and when it comes to grease, the city is full of it. Just ask Michael Babin, managing partner of Neighborhood Restaurant Group.

"Every week, it's hundreds of gallons of oil," Babin says. "In the past, we've paid someone to take it away for us and dispose of it."

NRG has already signed on to Jenkins' plan."We want to have sustainable practices. Our waste oil is perfectly good for driving diesel engines," Babin says.

But Sierra Club analyst Jesse Prentice-Dunn says it isn't a good idea to become too dependent on any kind of waste.

"For the same reason as gas. If we're overly dependent on it, we may not have the incentive to conserve in the future," he says.

Still, he says putting waste to use has its benefits. "Just as the native Americans used every piece of the buffalo, we’re using every piece of a vegetable," he says.

Plus, Jenkins says the mixture he's proposing -- 20 percent biodiesel, 80 percent traditional diesel -- would lead to a reduction in greenhouse gases and more opportunities for D.C. residents.

"We don't just clean up the environment, we reduce our footprint on foreign fuels, but we also do job creation in urban markets," he says. And that is a legacy he can be proud of, he adds.

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