Grease from dining halls turned into biodiesel on Mt. Washington

By Emily Kwesell
On April 26, 2013

It is 12:30 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon, and hungry students queue up for plates of pizza, bowls of soup or mounds of golden, greasy  french fries. As people sit down and dig into a chicken nugget or spicy waffle fry, 125 miles away, a horn sounds and the Cog Railway begins its ascent up Mount Washington.
The train chugs and huffs and puffs up Mount Washington and as students finish their lunch, the oil from their eaten  french fries and chicken nuggets is being recycled to be turned into biodiesel to power trucks, heat homes and fuel the elevated Cog Railway.
This conversion from oil from the fryolators in dining halls to biodiesel for trucks and trains is just one of the ways Holloway Commons reuses and sells recycled items.
"It's a huge undertaking," said Deborah Scanlon, one of the area managers of Holloway Commons.
Holloway prides itself on being a sustainable dining hall so it recycles everything they can: from cans, cardboard and glass to the oil that is used in the fryolators.
 "We try to make it so that the program is flawless and we work to do that," Scanlon said.
Holloway Commons, which puts out approximately 5,000 pounds of recycling every week, was already sustainable before it began recycling its used oil as it is always using new and innovative ways to recycle.
While a lot of the oil from the fryolators is converted to biodiesel, other recyclable items from the dining hall are sent to recycling plants in the area.
Items, like cans and glass, are sent to a plant in Rochester, N.H. and then sent to Massachusetts where they are sorted. Other items, like oil and cardboard, are sold to companies to be re-used in a sustainable way.
"We look at everything in a sustainable way," Scanlon said.
Her fellow area manager, David Hill, agreed and said that recycling is so second nature for them he often forgets everything they do because UNH Dining has been thinking sustainably for so long.
"It's kind of built into our structure," Hill said. "We kind of forget what we do because it's so second nature."
Part of this structure is a partnership Holloway Commons has with the White Mountain Biodiesel Company. UNH sells its recycled oil to the White Mountain Biodiesel Company which takes the recycled oil to its headquarters in Haverhill, N.H., where workers then convert the used oil into commercial grade fuel.
Steve Delfino, an employee at White Mountain Biodiesel said that the converted oil can be used to power any diesel engine and is sold in bulk to trucking companies, heating companies and to the Cog Railway.
"It's used to power any diesel engine," Delfino said. "All White Mountain trucks are run by biodiesel."
Biodiesel is fuel created by the chemical conversion of readily available animal and vegetable fats. Biodiesel is typically created using "restaurant grease," like the grease used to cook the french fries in Holloway Commons. Once the product is complete, it is sent out across the state and country to help lower carbon emissions and conserve fossil fuels.    
According to the Cog Railway website, the railway has an entire fleet of biodiesel powered locomotives.
Every trip up Mount Washington burns approximately 18 gallons of biodiesel, which diminishes carbon emissions and saves fossil fuels. Only the first train up the mountain runs on coal, while all the other trains run on a mix of 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petroleum.
The first locomotive to be powered by biodiesel was used in 2008, and the biodiesel fleet has grown from there. The railway began building the trains in January 2007 and they were finally in full use by May 2008.
A sales employee for the Cog Railway said that the railway "started designing these things here in 2006" mainly to diminish their environmental impact.
Because the Cog Railway is located in the White Mountain National Forest, many people viewed the nostalgic steam engines as a polluter due to the smoke released when the coal powered trains climbed up Mount Washington.
Although many tourists are unable to discern the difference between a coal powered train and a biodiesel powered one, the Cog Railway is using biodiesel to eliminate the smoke pollution from their trains.
So the french fries piled on plates and dipped in ketchup at lunchtime and dinnertime are actually helping to make New Hampshire a more sustainable, environmentally friendly state. From fried goodies, to biodiesel, to the engines of trucks and trains, and finally to the top of Mount Washington, Holloway Commons is scaling the heights of innovative recycling methods.


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