French Fries and Cut Grass

April 21, 2017

A Sustainable Solution: From Cooking our Food to Fueling our Tractors

What do French fries and cut grass have in common? Here’s a hint: think in “cycles”. Some of you may think that gardeners can take their grass clippings and compost them. Then, add the compost to the garden to help grow potatoes and thus french fries. That would be close and get some extra credit, but Housing and UCen Dining have put a new spin on this age old conundrum.

About eight years ago, Dining partnered with a vendor call Biodico to pick up our used waste oil from the four dining commons and UCen kitchen. Biodico would collect waste oil from the region and process it into biodiesel fuel. And, just recently, we’ve closed the loop (or cycle) and started using some of the biodiesel in our Grounds tractors in place of diesel fuel (thus, the “cut grass” portion of the riddle).

Biodico takes the waste oil to their facility at Port Heuneme Navy Base where they consolidate it and then process it at their new facility in Kern County. About every two to three weeks they bring 40-50 gallons of biodiesel back to UCSB and deliver it to the Grounds shop. Biodico is also researching ways to produce biofuel from algae and brine shrimp, and from a plant called Jatropha.

There are many reasons why it’s a good idea to use biodiesel.

  • First it’s a recycled product. Waste oil and grease from the dining commons is now turned into another product that we can use. (Previously, Housing did recycle the waste oil with a grease rendering company, which they made cosmetics from.)
  • Second, it burns cleaner. Less pollution, helps reduce climate change, and improves public health: (1) 78.5% less CO2 (greenhouse gas culprit); (2) 48% less Carbon Monoxide (poison gas); and (3) 47% less particulate matter (the stuff that makes diesel smoke black)
  • Third, the vast majority of UCSB waste oil comes from growing plants or vegetable oil – a renewable resource as opposed to diesel (a fossil fuel) that will eventually run out. So this helps with energy security and thus national security. It also reduces our dependence on foreign petroleum.
  • Fourthly, it’s non-toxic, and much safer to transport and store. You could actually drink biodiesel fuel, though not recommended. Imagine if someone drank diesel. As for transporting fuels, we know what happens when oil spills. No Exon Valdez or BP Horizon catastrophes using biodiesel.

The price of biodiesel is about $3.50/gallon and the local diesel price is about $3.04, so right now diesel is cheaper, but this price fluctuates and the biodiesel price is more stable.

So what’s not to like about using biodiesel? So far, Housing uses it in all our Grounds diesel using equipment at the 20% level. We hope to use more in the future as long as the equipment runs well.  Special thanks to Grounds and Dining for pursuing this worthwhile project. Together, we can make a difference eating french fries and cutting grass.

By Mark Rousseau

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