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Researchers from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa are working with Maui based company Pacific Biodiesel to develop a way to make water from restaurant grease traps reusable. The collaboration is an example of a new type of partnership between local businesses and the state’s public university.

“It is kind of a novel incubator way to bridge technology from the university into industry and vice versa,” <Michael Cooney a researcher with the UH Mānoa Hawaiʻi Natural Energy Institute.

UH has brought the technology to apply to this problem that we have that has a real world economic model that’s waiting for it to be invented,” said Bob King, the founder and owner of Pacific Biodiesel Technologies, LLC.

Wastewater from dishwashing and cleaning kitchens would clog sewer lines because of the oils it contains. Restaurants are required to have grease traps to prevent this from happening and pay companies like Pacific Biodiesel to remove and transport that wastewater to sewer plants. The plants charge a higher fee to dispose of it because it takes more energy to treat.

Pacific Biodiesel wants to recycle the grease trap water, which would be better for the environment, increase the company’s profit margin and reduce grease trap service fees for restaurants.

“It makes it so much harder to do the right thing if it is more expensive,” said King. “So the more we can do to make this more efficient and cost effective then the easier it is to get into the market.”

Michael Cooney, a researcher with the UH Mānoa Hawaiʻi Natural Energy Institute, in his lab

The technology UH Mānoa researchers from the Hawaiʻi Natural Energy Institute are developing may end up having a global impact on the wastewater industry.

“Most of that reuse and recycling comes into play through small businesses that start something in a local environment where they make a little bit of money out of it,” explained Cooney. “When small businesses can make it work over five or seven years, then big businesses come in and buy them up and then it becomes nationalized.”

UH developed a High Rate Anaerobic Digestion system, or HRAD that uses a type of charcoal called bio char to treat the wastewater on-site while creating methane.

After successful lab experiments, a test scale system was built and installed at Pacific Biodiesel’s Oʻahu facility. Normally, university researchers do all of their work in a lab and are not involved when it’s applied to a real world situation. Often times, the solutions don’t work because of this disconnect.

In this partnership, UH researchers and the people who will actually use the technology work together, solving problems as they come up. Cooney says that interaction creates highbrid intelligence.

“We are providing the real-world working lab that they can come try their ideas and it is a great thing for us, ” added King.

“Pilot tech parks, in industry, governed under research agreements that are corporate to corporate between the university and the company that allow any faculty member to go down there,” Cooney.

Creating an environment where everyone benefits—the researchers, local businesses and all of Hawaiʻi.

“We really are state employees and really ought to be helping the local community,” said Cooney.

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