Like most colleges, Keene State College (KSC) in New Hampshire has depended on No. 6 fuel oil for decades to heat most campus buildings. Times, they are a-changing. Last August, KSC met the demand for heat and hot water entirely through the use of purified waste vegetable oil. Since then, about 36% of the KSC campus, which is situated east of the Green Mountains and experiences all four seasons quite distinctly, has been heated by biofuel, a carbon neutral product.
In fact, KSC is the first higher education institution in the U.S. to heat with 100% purified waste vegetable oil, which burns at a similar temperature as No. 6 fuel oil but is much cleaner. “By choosing to replace polluting No. 6 heating fuel oil with an innovative new fuel derived entirely from waste cooking oil, we are taking bold steps to demonstrate our values by significantly reducing our greenhouse gas footprint and improving the wellbeing of the people on our campus and the surrounding community,” said KSC Director of Campus Sustainability, Cary Gaunt.
There are two general categories of waste oil and grease. The cleanest and easiest to work with is used cooking oil, also called waste vegetable oil or used fryer oil. This is edible oil that has been used multiple times in a deep-fat fryer. KSC incurred only a nominal upfront cost for minor adaptations to heating equipment as part of the conversion.
The KSC announcement about their partial switch to biofuel came as part of Campus Sustainability Month (CSM), an international celebration of sustainability in higher education held every October. CSM takes place on- and off-campuses and engages and inspires students and others affiliated with a campus to become sustainability change agents. Events include teach-in’s, sustainability pledge-drives, zero energy concerts, waste audits, green sporting events, letter writing campaigns, and service projects, among others. CSM offers campuses the platform to raise visibility of their efforts to bring more decentralized renewable energy sources to their community. The October CSM festivities serve as a reinforcement to April’s Earth Day and was a poignant moment for KSC to reveal its recent environmental successes with biofuel.
By experimenting with an environmentally-friendly alternative, KSC is at the forefront of a movement to withdraw from dependency on polluting fossil fuels. “Sustainability is a core value at KSC,” Gaunt added. The move to biofuels is part of a long history of KSC environmental activism, as the college was one of the original signatories of the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment, now titled the Carbon Commitment.
The College continues to develop projects and an overall plan to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions campus-wide. It intends to expand biofuel use over the next few years so more campus spaces can benefit. While the college currently receives its shipments of purified waste vegetable oil biofuel from a Boston-based firm that manufactures the product, KSC also plans to recycle its own used cooking oil as heating oil in the near future. Each step helps KSC cultivate a more diversified and resilient heating fuel portfolio.
KSC environmental studies major and Eco-Rep, Victoria Drake, summed it up. “I feel a great sense of pride being a part of a community that is actively searching for ways to reduce their carbon footprint. The progress that is being made shows the dedication and concern that KSC has for our planet.”