A renewable energy process to produce fuel that was invented by a team led by Lawrence Pratt

A process to convert fats, oils and grease to fuel that was invented by a team led by Lawrence Pratt, an associate professor of chemistry at MEC, has been approved for a patent.

The process has enormous implications: roughly two billion gallons of brown grease are annually produced in the United States.  Dr. Pratt has estimated that his method can eventually produce more than half a billion gallons for diesel fuel each year from brown grease alone, and much more from other sources of waste oils and grease.

The patent, applied for by the research foundation of the City University of New York, means that anyone who wishes to commercialize the process will have to buy a license from CUNY, Dr. Pratt said. He also gets a percentage of the royalties.

“It gets us closer to commercializing it,” Dr. Pratt said of the research he has done since 2008. With the help of a $239,000 National Science Foundation received in 2016, his research team – which includes partners in Malaysia and Vietnam -- continues to explore the right temperature and right amount of time to heat the waste products. They are also figuring out how the laboratory process must be modified prior to commercialization. The waste is turned into a liquid similar to kerosene.

His latest paper, produced by a team that included MEC students, researchers at CUNY schools and elsewhere, was published in the scientific journal “Fuel” under the title “Chemical Reactions in the Pyrolysis of Brown Grease.” A paper on his work was also published in 2014 in the New England Water Environment Association’s Journal and it has been featured on Spectrum News NY1.  

 “It’s important research,” Dr. Pratt said. “It creates a more environmentally friendly source of energy.”

Dr. Terrence Blackman, the interim dean of the School of Science, Health and Technology was effusive in his praise. “Larry is an excellent researcher and he has been doing some wonderful work,” Dr. Blackman said. “He’s an innovative guy. It’s the kind of thinking we want to foster at the college and we look forward to being a leader in this domain.”

Roughly two billion gallons of brown grease are produced in the United States each year that could potentially be converted into fuel.  The brown grease is cleaned out of the sewer pipes that lead to the sewer plant or it floats on top of the sewage in the treatment plant.

Dr. Pratt has estimated that unless more funding becomes available it could take another decade before his method is ready for use by a sewage treatment plant or another company.

Shawn Pinnock, a sophomore biology student working on the grease project the other day, said it was exciting. With the tell-tale odor clinging to the narrow lab in AB1 where he was heating things up, Pinnock mentioned that his family is cheering him on. To a point.

“My mom tells me to go into the shower as soon as I go home,” Pinnock said with a grin.