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  • Writer's pictureIn-Pipe Technology

Understanding The Science Behind Fats, Oils, And Grease

Anyone that has ever had to deal with a build-up of fats, oils, and grease (FOG), knows it’s a massive pain and expense to deal with. Leave it as is, and you risk exposing yourself and your community to dangerous consequences that can be hazardous for public health.

Having FOG in your local pipes, pumping stations and even treatment plants can cause major issues such as:

  • Sewer blockages and overflows

  • Spiking maintenance and removal costs

  • Lowered outputs at wastewater treatment plants

  • Bad odors and corrosion on important infrastructure

  • Decreasing the lifespan of the infrastructure

And that’s just the beginning.

The only way forward is to ensure that people are educated about the dangers of FOG and gain a better understanding of the science. This can lead to better prevention over time.

The Issue With FOG

FOG is a common byproduct of residential and commercial cooking and manufacturing processes. Commercial kitchens in particular can have a lot of FOG build-up by the end of just one day of service - think about all the oils and other things that get left behind when all the dishes have been served.

If this FOG isn’t handled and disposed of the right way, it can cause the damages discussed above. The way these problems usually happen is with something innocuous: pouring used oil down the drain.

Done repeatedly, the FOG sticks to the inside of the sewage collection system until a complete blockage has been formed. This then leads to sewer overflows and a sulphury smell that will drive people up the wall.

Getting To The Bottom Of FOG

Fats are esters of fatty acids and glycerol which are normally solid at room temperature. Oils, on the other hand, are esters of fatty acids and glycerol which are normally liquid at room temperature. Grease is a general term used to describe a soft or melted animal fat or a lubricant.

Collectively they are referred to as fats, oils, and grease (FOG).

Large amounts of FOG are disposed into wastewater on a continuous basis particularly where there are high numbers of restaurants or food processing facilities. When FOG enters the wastewater it tends to congeal and cause blockages within the piping system and at lift stations and the headworks, creating flow problems and odors due to the FOG hydrophobicity and poor solubility in water and from the oxidation of the organic FOG compounds (putrification).

Some microbes are particularly useful in biodegrading most of the FOG discharged into the wastewater.

How FOG Gets Broken Down

Degradation of FOG begins with the breakdown of the complex molecule by extracellular enzymes produced by microorganisms. Microorganisms produce many different classes of lipolytic enzymes including true lipases and esterases (e.g., carboxylesterase). Lipases display the most activity towards water-insoluble long-chain triglycerides while esterases degrade smaller molecules that are at least partially soluble in water.

Bacteria as a group have great diversity in the activity levels of the lipases and/or esterases that they produce. Some of the lipases and esterases are very broad in their substrate activity while others have preferences for specific fatty acids.

Other compounds produced by microorganisms and useful in the process of biodegradation of FOG are biosurfactants that are excreted into the environment surrounding the microorganism.

Some of the bacteria genera reported to produce surfactants include Pseudomonas, Rhodococcus, Mycobacterium, Nocardia, Flavobacterium, Corynebacterium, Clostridium, Acinetobacter, Thiobacillus, Bacillus, Serratia, Arthrobacter, and Alcanivorax (Maier, 2003). The type of biosurfactant produced is then genus and sometimes even species-specific.

After the FOG has been exposed to biosurfactants and degraded by enzymes, the fatty acids and glycerol are consumed by other microorganisms that are capable of utilizing them.

In some sections of collection systems, FOG is very difficult to metabolize. In these situations, a specialized proprietary mix of aerobic vegetative bacteria specialized for hydrocarbon digestion is added to the treatment process.

Why This Bacteria Is Special

Although these organisms require an aerobic environment to live, sufficient oxygen is in the wastewater in wet wells to allow them to assist in breaking down FOG at the point of entry.

Also, they can survive short periods of oxygen deprivation by using nitrate as an alternative electron acceptor. These organisms are common soil bacteria that are adapted to living in low nutrient conditions, or r-strategists.

An ‘r strategist’ relies on high reproductive rates for continued survival within the community. A ‘r strategist’ microorganism is one that, through rapid growth rates, takes over and dominates situations in which resources are temporarily abundant (Andrews and Harris, 1986). A ‘r strategist’ (e.g., Aspergillus, Penicillium, Pseudomonas, and Bacillus) can rapidly colonize and degrade large, readily available organic matter in a short period of time.

How In-Pipe Helps Reduce FOG

Our proprietary bacteria solution metabolizes FOG naturally and is safe for your system. We don’t use chemicals or surfactants that can cause issues for your pipes and infrastructure because we’re in the business of solving problems for you, not creating them. Once the system is set up, we run it – saving you and your staff time and money.

Most FOG hotspots are created by one of two sources – restaurants and manufacturers, especially food-related ones. When you and your team no longer need to fight FOG throughout your system, you’ll see immediate benefits to your bottom line.

In-Pipe’s solution will also save you from the costs associated with jet/vacing, manpower and even help address odors and SSOs. In a time when many municipal budgets are stretched because of the coronavirus pandemic, city leaders will appreciate a smart solution like In-Pipe.

We’re on-site every month to ensure that you’re satisfied with how our approach is working for you. Our turnkey solution eliminates FOG buildup, so your plant doesn’t have to treat the issue later. This is a proven, long-term solution, not a stopgap measure.

Changing your game plan against FOG from defense to offense is the best way to knock it out of your system quickly and keep it out, saving you time and money and letting your team focus on more important issues.

Contact us today for your custom solution!

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