A Scientific solution to the problem of FOG

By: Mike Flenniken of IAPMO

Protein matrix converts kitchen grease at molecular level to eliminate blockages and related issues

Over the years, numerous solutions have been offered to solve the problem of fats, oils, and grease (FOG) clogging sink traps, interceptor wells, and underground pipes in residential and commercial buildings.

These blockages can lead to overflows, sewer backups, fires, unpleasant odours, and increased maintenance costs, as the substances harden and become difficult to remove.

Protein Matrix believes it has the solution, in the form of a crop-based degreaser that converts the FOG into a benign, flowable fatty acid that never reverts to FOG because it has been converted at a molecular level.

Scientist Peter Rehage initially invented Protein Matrix for a purpose other than FOG removal, Protein Matrix LLC manager Oscar Plotkin said, but Rehage realised it was capable of converting FOG to a nontoxic compound that would easily flow through pipes.

“What we have discovered is that we are able to convert the grease at its source and keep the interceptors, grease traps, and any other place where grease exists free of grease,” Plotkin said, “And when our material flows through the pipeline transport system, it cleans the pipes and reduces the amount of grease.”

To see how the product would perform in real-world scenarios, Protein Matrix turned to Albert Robbat Jr, a chemistry professor at Tufts University in Medford, Mass. Robbat, along with Anthony Sillari, chief plumbing and gas inspector for the city of Somerville, Mass., who oversaw the pilot project that tested Protein Matrix’s effectiveness in the cafeteria at Tufts University. Robbat also tested the degreaser at a large fast-food chain restaurant.

Robbat said wastewater treatment systems, whether municipal or private, require commercial kitchens to pump out their traps every three months so the FOG doesn’t get into the transport system and create blockages in pipes.

“When we started both projects, the big interceptor trap (at the restaurant) and the Tufts cafeteria sink traps, we started just before they were scheduled for pumping so they were in the worst condition,” Robbat said, recalling that the layer of fat, or ‘fat mat’ at Tufts was about 10-12cm thick and the fat mat at the fast-food restaurant 0,9 to 1,5m thick.

Robbat said he was amazed at how Protein Matrix cleaned the pipes, a distance of 2m from the sink trap downstream. Pictures taken before the three-month treatment show bulges of fat that had accumulated over time, narrowing the pipe’s diameter. In pictures taken after the treatment, not only has the bulge gotten smaller, but the pipe’s curvature can clearly be seen.

“These findings show the degreaser opened the diameter of the pipe to its original dimension,” Robbat said.

What cleaned out the pipe, he explained, was the unused Protein Matrix that was introduced into the trap on a daily basis. On days when the restaurant is cooking something that produces a lot of FOG, such as bacon, the Protein Matrix will react with that. However, on days when there might not be as much FOG produced, there isn’t as much for Protein Matrix to react with, so as dishes, pots, and pans are washed, the Protein Matrix flows out of the trap, down the pipe, and finds and removes the bulges of FOG on the wall of the pipe.

Robbat said he is unaware of any drawbacks to using Protein Matrix for FOG removal. He said in the past, people have tried to use enzymes and bacteria as ‘green’ approaches for getting rid of fat, but he said such approaches liquefied the fat at the injection point but it would resolidify downstream.

“All you’re doing is pushing the blockage from one location to the next,” he said. “And in our study you can see from the video and from the pipes that that’s not the case. We permanently change fat, not just move it.”

Robbat said that given the success of the studies, he has proposed a project to the cities of Medford and Somerville in which their high school students would learn about wastewater and wastewater treatment, what it takes to maintain a wastewater collection and transport system, and what goes into the sink traps at their schools. Then the plumbers from their respective cities would help the students collect samples from the sink traps like they did at Tufts, and the students would measure them for fat content.

Read the full feature in Plumbing Africa January 2016, page 11.

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