ELTHAM – A local biodiesel refinery is giving restaurants the opportunity to go green.

Since it was started nine years ago, the Virginia Biodiesel Refinery, located at 7475 Ready Mix Road in Eltham worked mainly with soybean oil. However, in 2008, the economy suffered and the crop yields slowed down, leaving the company to look into other green energy sources.

"That's when we started using vegetable cooking oil from local restaurants," said Ryan Faulkner, manager of operations and production.

The refinery also collects oil from other businesses, such as Henrico Jail East and a naval facility in Virginia Beach, and special events, like seafood fests.

According to Faulkner, the company will be collecting cooking oil at the West Point Crab Carnival on October 4-5; the business currently offers money for cooking oil, depending on the volume of waste.

When working with restaurants, the refinery leaves a 150-gallon bin behind the participating restaurant. Rather than throwing away the used cooking oil, the restaurant staff pours it into the bins.

Virginia Biodiesel Refinery will then schedule a time to collect the oil using a vacuum truck. The oil is brought back to the refinery, where it undergoes a chemical process, making it a clean burning and renewable energy source.

"The oil usually has a lot of food particles and water in it, so we heat it to 160 degrees, which cooks the water out. We then let the 'bottoms,' or particles, settle on the bottom," said Faulkner.

Though the Virginia Biodiesel Refinery does not currently have any fuel stations, the company is working towards providing the service in the future. Currently, people may fill up with Virginia Biodiesel at Phillips Energy, Inc. at 2586 George Washington Memorial Highway in Gloucester.

However, local businesses, such as Papco, blend Virginia Biodiesel with its other products.

"It's a full circle. We are turning local business waste into fuel, while other local businesses that use the biodiesel are passing it on to residents," said Faulkner, who added that using cooking oil to make biodiesel fuel has numerous benefits to the business industry, community, and environment.

"We can keep our costs lower by using the cooking oil, and we have a secure supply of oil coming, which you don't always have with crops," said Faulkner.

According to Faulkner, biodiesel also has 0 emission, acts as a lubricant for most diesel engines, keeps oil out of the landfills, and is made locally, which promotes job growth.

"We want people to be aware of where we are and what we do," said Faulkner. "We want to help support the local economy."

For more information on the Virginia Biodiesel Refinery, visit: http://virginiabiodiesel.com.

Martin can be reached by phone at 804-885-0040.