Monday, January 10, 2011

Local company tackles oil and grease

(Courtesy of the Courier-Tribune )

Mike Bullins finishes the assembly of a Big Dipper model W-250-IS at Thermaco, a manufacturer of grease and oil removal units in Asheboro. Thermaco delivers its environmentally friendly devices to restaurants and businesses worldwide.

J.D. Walker
January 7, 2011

ASHEBORO — A small industry in Asheboro is taking global steps to help combat pollution.

Thermaco, makers of the Big Dipper and Trapzilla automatic grease and oil removal units, has a presence around the globe including Mexico, England, Ireland and Kurdistan, not to mention hundreds of restaurants and industries across the U.S.

Later in February, Owen George, global marketing analyst, will journey with a team of representatives from the state Department of Commerce and North Carolina business leaders to India. Others on the team will be there to promote both the state and North Carolina business products.

George will be there on behalf of Thermaco.

“I expect to meet with people in charge of water works departments in large cities and representatives of industries that relate to our products,” he said.

George said Thermaco machines filter organic oils from water in restaurant, educational, business and industrial applications. These innovative products have always been a good idea from an environmental standpoint, he said.

“Now, local and state governments are realizing they make sense from a cost-saving standpoint, too,” he said.

In a recent report, the City of San Francisco estimated it spent $3.5 million to unclog city water/sewer pipes. The biggest culprit was grease from homes and restaurants, George said. On the Thermaco website, George said Wichita, Kan., a city of 350,000 population, found 85 percent of their sewer line problems were caused by grease accumulation in the piping.

It’s not just a problem in the U.S. George said Mexico City recently underwent a major infrastructure improvement, removing the old city’s antique water and sewer lines. After fixing the infrastructure problem, George said officials realized they had not fixed the source of the problem — the many restaurants in the old city, flushing greasy water into the new system.

George said a major push is under way now to require all restaurants in that city to have some type of active filtering system to stop the problem before it starts.

The technology that goes into making Thermaco’s grease and oil removal units is constantly evolving. David Lillard, Thermaco marketing manager, said the company employs 10 workers to assemble and test the Big Dippers and Trapzillas it sells. The company’s lead engineer, Bruce Kyles, works constantly to improve on the technology.

The Big Dipper works in a wide range of venues from small “Mom and Pop” restaurants to large operations like the multiple restaurants at Brown University in Rhode Island. It is a replacement for the grease trap technology that George said is more than 100 years old.

As many people who have worked in the restaurant industry know, the dreaded grease trap is a device installed between the kitchen drain and the building sewer to trap and retain fats and grease from kitchen waste lines.

It is frequently installed in the floor under a wash sink or dishwasher. George said the grease trap is only 25 percent effective at removing grease from waste water. Periodically, it has to be manually cleaned — a dirty, smelly job.

George said the Big Dipper sits on top of the floor under the wash sink or dishwasher. It can be installed at any practical spot between the point of origin for waste water and public water/sewer lines.

Waste water flows through a containment unit. An automated wheel periodically skims grease from the water and discards it into a grease collection container.

This container can be emptied as needed into the restaurant’s main grease collection bin to be picked up by a waste byproducts company for recycling into a variety of useful products from biodiesel to cosmetic additives.

The Trapzilla works in a similar manner on a much larger scale.

Thermaco isn’t new to the business scene. Owners Bill and Susan Batten founded the company in 1983. As an entrepreneur with an MBA from Duke University, Batten saw the potential in a little-known wastewater treatment product which led to his purchasing the Big Dipper technology in 1985. Since then it has sold 22,000 units globally.

Back in the day, the Thermaco solution to FOG (fats, oil and grease) management was seen mainly as a way to avoid large plumbing costs and prevent pollution. It still does that, George said.

But in today’s fuel-hungry world, collecting FOG from wastewater has another money-making appeal. FOG can be filtered and turned into biofuel. George said San Francisco has already made major strides in this area.

Launched in 2007, the city’s SFGreasecycle is a citywide effort that diverts FOG away from the sewers and turns it into biofuel. The city’s fleet of 1,500 diesel vehicles was converted to run on B20 biodiesel the same year. The city government is collecting used cooking oil from city restaurants for free and recycling it into biodiesel, an environmentally friendly alternative to petroleum diesel.

FOG continues to be a resource in the production of some lubricants, soaps, animal feed and cosmetics.

Lillard said Thermaco’s product lines continue to evolve. The R&D department works on a low-cost and unique separator, adapted to the need of emerging markets.

The importance of this technology cannot be understated. George said clean water issues can only be expected to grow in importance as the world’s population grows.


  1. Hi to all,I am new person to the blogging stuff.I want to share about the envirotub through your blog.The envirotub is used for the oil recycling and disposal.Keep update more things in the blog.
    grease oil collection

  2. That would surely a big help in preventing sewage blockage and water pollution. But will that be affordable to many restaurant owners? And how often should a grease trap be cleaned?