Recycling Cooking Oil

The interactive graphic above shows how a new pilot program on campus will recycle vegetable oil and use it to fuel a boiler, providing heat on campus.

Vegetable oil that browns French fries in kitchens across campus will soon serve a double role by keeping BU buildings warm.

A pilot program now ramping up is gathering, processing, and cleaning used cooking oil, then recycling it as fuel for the University’s central boiler, which serves thirteen buildings on the Charles River Campus.

“We take what would otherwise be waste from one process and convert it into a technical nutrient — fuel in this case,” says Dennis Carlberg, BU’s director of sustainability. “It is precisely this thinking that I hope one day will eliminate the whole concept of waste on campus.”

The University produces 5,000 gallons of cooking oil waste a year. The kitchen in the George Sherman Union alone uses about 65 gallons a week. While the recycled vegetable oil only represents a fraction of the total oil used to heat the university’s buildings annually, the project is still only in its testing phase and a successful outcome would see that amount increase.

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, reused vegetable oil should release about 70 percent less greenhouse gas than oil, and cost less as well. Carlberg says the purpose of the pilot project is to ensure that there are no adverse effects from burning biofuel in the recently upgraded equipment in the University’s central plant.

The idea of reusing cooking oil for heating purposes was brought to the University by Save That Stuff, the company that collects about 100 tons of reusable materials from the University a month, according to Kelly Dunn, sustainability coordinator for Dining Services.

Save That Stuff had taken over a cooking oil recycling program from a company called SVO Link, which shared a centrifuge in Charlestown, Mass., with manufacturer Whittemore-Wright.

Whittemore-Wright primarily creates tanning oils for leather, but owner Karl Hoyt is enthusiastic about what he calls the “Saved Vegetable Oil” project. His family-run facility processes between 1,000 and 2,000 gallons of used vegetable oil a week for Save That Stuff. If all goes well with the pilot, Hoyt hopes to increase that number to 6,000 gallons a week by the end of the year.

Edward A. Brown can be reached at ebrown@bu.edu.

This article first appeard in BU Today on October 1, 2009.