Biodiesel project battles climate change with grease

Fast food fat powers campus grounds equipment in greenhouse gas reduction program

What’s green, has 35 horsepower, and smells like burning French fries? Answer: One of the University of Calgary’s John Deere riding lawnmowers that is helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by running on fuel made from used cooking oil.

A one-year pilot project using biodiesel in grounds maintenance equipment has prevented about 68 tonnes of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere where it can contribute to global warming, according to officials who call the program a success.

“This is all about becoming more sustainable in a practical way that makes sense for everybody,” said Kelly Hutton, general services manager for Campus Infrastructure who initiated the biodiesel idea. “In this case, we’ve been paying less money for fuel, our machines are working better and we’re not putting as much pollution into the air.”

The program is another example of the U of C’s commitment to becoming more environmentally-friendly through its campus-wide Sustainability Initiative.

“We’re trying to show that being sustainable and more efficient is actually a good business strategy,” said Hans Luu, the U of C’s co-ordinator of environmental management.

The grounds department has been running its lawnmowers, snow ploughs, tractors and other diesel-powered machinery on an 80:20 mixture of standard diesel and biodiesel refined from used vegetable oil from local fast food outlets such as Peter’s Drive-In. The biodiesel is supplied by Calgary-based Veggie Velocity, one of Canada’s few suppliers that collects cooking oil from restaurants for processing into fuel-grade biodiesel.

The experiment began last spring by running two riding mowers on 100 per cent biodiesel and two on a 50 per cent mixture–resulting in smooth-running machines that gave off a finger lickin’ good aroma.

“We were surprised to find that they ran really well, and the exhaust smelled like French fries,” said grounds mechanic Harry Friesen. “We decided to start running all our diesel equipment on a 20 per cent biodiesel mix, which doesn’t smell and avoids some of the problems you get with biodiesel related to cold weather.”

Biodiesel is now being used in all four mowers, two dump trucks, two wheel-loaders, one backhoe, one road grader, two Bobcats and six farm tractors.

Petroleum diesel produces 2.59 kilograms of carbon dioxide for every litre burned, compared to 0.26 kilograms of CO2 per litre of vegetable-based biodiesel. By using 2,640 litres of biodiesel in the last year, the grounds department has cut carbon dioxide emissions from its equipment by 67.7 tonnes and counting.

Using biodiesel has also resulted in savings on fuel bills for grounds department, which purchased 18,426 litres of diesel in the last year. Biodiesel also does a better job of lubricating engines than ordinary diesel.

A performance evaluation of the project conducted in December by Donald Jantz, a certified management accountant at U of C, recommended that the program be expanded so that the U of C could play a significant role in the development of the biodiesel sector in Alberta and suggested that researchers could be enlisted to find new sources of biodiesel and improve performance in cold weather.

Hutton said the department will continue to use biodiesel permanently and the program will be expanded to include other equipment and U of C vehicles in the future.

“We’re going to make it official and put out a request for proposals for a long-term supplier,” Hutton said. “Biodiesel is something that’s going to become much bigger in the future and we want to do what we can to support the industry as it gets off the ground here in Calgary.”

The U of C’s Sustainability Initiative was launched in 2004 to reduce the environmental impact of university operations and make the U of C a more economically, environmentally and socially sustainable. Other projects include the UBike program – Canada’s first campus-wide free bike program for students, staff, and faculty; a partnership with Direct Energy to improve energy efficiency across campus; and implementing green design for new buildings.

Media availability, photo and interview opportunities:

The U of C’s environmental management co-ordinator Hans Luu, Campus Infrastructure general services manager Kelly Hutton, grounds mechanic Harry Friesen , financial analyst Donald Jantz and Veggie Velocity president Patrick Luft will be available for media interviews at the U of C’s Grounds Building from 10 am to 12 pm on Friday, April 21.

Demonstrations of biodiesel-powered equipment and photo opportunities will also be available at the site.

For more information, contact:

Grady Semmens
Media Relations Advisor – Research
University of Calgary
Phone: (403) 220-7722
Cell: (403) 651-2515
Fax: (403) 220-1312

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