Beyond the Hill

How Keene State College is heating campus with purified waste vegetable oil

Tatiana Diaz | Contributing Illustrator

Keene State College is the first campus to use a 100 percent purified waste vegetable oil to heat its campus.

Keene State College is hoping to save both money and the planet in its latest efforts to go green.

The college is in the middle of transitioning from No. 6 fuel oil to a 100 percent purified waste vegetable oil to heat its campus and is the first college to do so in the country, said David Weeks, a Keene State Physical Plant employee.

The vegetable oil is a biofuel sourced from a company called Lifecycle Renewables, located in Marblehead, Massachusetts.

The vegetable oil fuel, also known as LR100, is considered to be carbon-neutral, said Cary Gaunt, Keene State director of campus sustainability.

In addition, LR100 eliminates the school’s dependency on foreign oil, has a less noticeable odor, is a renewable resource, has a lower maintenance cost and is cost-competitive with the oil Keene State previously used, Gaunt explained.

Both Gaunt and Weeks said there are no downfalls to using the LR100 instead of the previous oil, based on what they’ve seen.

LR100 is more expensive to produce than the previous oil, but with federal and state government incentives, the cost drops significantly, Gaunt said.

“We have to think about not only environmental sustainability, but also financial and institutional stability,” Gaunt said.

Lifecycle Renewables receives incentives from the federal government because they produce the vegetable oil fuel, which allows them to be cost-competitive. Keene State would receive incentives from New Hampshire’s state government because it burns a carbon-neutral biofuel instead of fossil fuels, Gaunt said.

Keene State has not seen any money from the incentives yet, as this is still an experimental run with the LR100 fuel, Weeks said.

The switch from fossil fuels to biofuel has been well-received by the campus community, said Victoria Drake, senior environmental studies major and Eco-Rep at Keene State.

“Students were kind of shocked that we were the first university or college to do this,” Drake said. “Everyone thinks that it’s great and that we’re setting an example.”

One of the biggest complaints with burning fossil fuels to heat the school was the fumes, Drake said.

“When I did live on campus, I did notice that the burning area was right near one of the dorms my freshman year,” she said.

Second-, third- and fourth-year students on campus have noticed a significant change in the campus’s air quality since switching to LR100, Drake said.

“When you open a jar of No. 6, you have to leave the room because it smells so bad,” Gaunt said. “When you open up a jar of the vegetable oil product, it smells like canola oil, so the headaches and the complaints over the No. 6 don’t exist with the LR100 product. It smells clean.”

Thirty-six percent of Keene State’s fuel load for the 2016-17 academic year will be the vegetable oil fuel, Weeks said. The school has been burning the vegetable oil since June and they will burn the remaining No. 6 fuel oil in the winter when the temperature drops, Weeks said.

Keene State, being a large institution, buys its oil in yearly contracts, Gaunt said. For the 2016-17 academic year, the school had already purchased a contract to use No. 6 fuel oil in its burners, but was able to renegotiate the contract so the school can experiment with the LR100 during the year to test its viability as a heating oil, Gaunt said.

“We’re transitioning away from the No. 6 heating oil,” Gaunt said, “but we are obligated to fulfill our contract.”

Lifecycle Renewables gets its vegetable oil from restaurants, hospitals and institutions with commercial kitchens in Boston and all over the Northeast, Gaunt said.

Keene State hopes to use their own waste cooking oil as a source of LR100, Gaunt said. Keene State must wait until its contract with the company that picks up its waste oil ends before signing a contract with Lifecycle Renewables to use its waste oil as a component of the biofuel, Gaunt said.

“With sustainability, you always like to come full circle, and this would be full-circle sustainability,” Gaunt said.

Keene State’s commitment to sustainability is strong, Gaunt said. She said Keene State was one of the first schools to join the American Colleges and Universities Presidents’ Climate Commitment in 2007 and that the college’s strategic plan named sustainability as one of its primary goals.

The college currently works with Second Nature, an organization that promotes sustainability in higher education. Second Nature works with Keene State, Syracuse University and more than 650 other college campuses across the United States, said Stephen Muzzy, senior manager of Second Nature’s climate program.

“We see the higher education sector as being a key component for pushing societal transformation towards a low-carbon and zero-carbon global market economy,” Muzzy said.

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