A Japanese company started using biodiesel fuel created from used tempura cooking oil and discarded lard from ramen soup to power its open-air sightseeing train last month.
Takachiho Amaterasu Railway Co., a train company operating in Takachiho, a town in Miyazaki Prefecture, Japan started using the fuel developed by transportation company Nishida Shoun on Aug. 1.
The railway conducted its test on the fuel for its open-air sightseeing train in mid-June using a ratio of 9:1 used tempura oil and lard extracted from ramen broth and refined with chemicals.
During the testing, the company found the trail had no problems running on slopes. Interestingly, the company worker who refueled the train on Aug. 1 discovered that the platform smelled like stir-fried oil, similar to the aroma inside a Chinese restaurant.
Although the price is similar to that of diesel, the company noted that it never had any problems with the black smoke coming from the train or the strong smell of exhaust gas that is commonly present in diesel-run engines.
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The idea to recycle waste oil full-time began for Masumi Nishida, the 74-year-old chairman of Nishida Shoun, in 2007. Nishida noted that he took inspiration from then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi after he likened biofuel made from sugar cane in Okinawa to a “green oil field.”
Nishida did not turn to ramen broth until 2013, when one of his clients asked whether “tonkotsu broth left by customers can be recycled though it is now disposed of as industrial residue.”
Curious about the usage of the disposed of broth, Nishida began studying soup samples. Although Nishida had developed a way to remove unnecessary components from the broth by melting them, the trucking company chairman could not determine the accurate water temperature for the method.
He found the solution one day while eating a “shabu-shabu” hot pot meal when he noticed how the oil bubbles suddenly disappeared after reaching the right temperature. Surprised by what he found, Nishida reportedly brought a thermometer with him to determine the right temperature to melt pork fat.
Soon after the discovery, Nishida reportedly developed equipment that could recover lard from the soup and had several restaurants install them in their kitchens.
“The endeavor to retrieve only oil from soup is epoch-making,” Chihiro Kongo, associate professor of machine engineering at Okayama University of Science’s Faculty of Engineering, told The Asahi Shimbun.
“It will also offer a good opportunity for people to become interested in the effective use of waste as well as soup treatment within households. Recovering oil and fat efficiently remains a challenge for the method’s spread, but it will be ideal if it is used nationwide.”
Nishida Shoun, a company based in Shingu in Fukuoka City, has been refining 3,000 liters of biodiesel from tempura oil and ramen broth daily, which they use to power 170 trucks operating in the Kyushu and Chugoku regions in western Japan.