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Westchester New York Using Cooking Oil for Fuel

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Authored by Jon Mercer in Automotive
Published on 02-12-2009

In Westchester County, New York, county officials have begun a program that will make good use of excess cooking oil from the county’s 3,500 restaurants: a cheap and clean-burning fuel. The county already has seven vehicles that can run solely on cooking oil alone, and more than a hundred vehicles which run on a mixture of cooking oil and standard diesel fuel.

The program is being hailed as an ideal way to cut fuel costs while reducing emissions that are harmful the environment. Basically, the program enables the county to take excess cooking oil from local restaurants to use as an alternative energy source for county vehicles. The county could end up saving about $25,000 for every 10,000 gallons of cooking oil collected, so the monetary benefits are obvious.

Currently, many of the restaurants rely on private disposal services to remove frying oil that cannot be reused, so it is financially beneficial for the restaurants as well. But even more importantly, the program will enable the county to reduce its impact on the environment. The county has conducted a year long experiment of mixing diesel fuel with vegetable oil to power their vehicles. The experiment was so successful that the county is now planning to expand their fleet of cooking oil vehicles to three-hundred and fifty vehicles that will run either exclusively on cooking oil, or a mixture of cooking oil and diesel fuel.

It costs the county about $4,500 to retrofit each vehicle to run solely on vegetable oil, and it is also relatively inexpensive to build a processing system for the oil. The county already has several of the processing systems in place at a cost of about $1,000 each. County officials say if the need arises to build more of the processing systems, they are willing to allocate the necessary funds to do so.

Not only does the county collect used oil from restaurants, but they also use the oil from county-owned facilities, nursing homes and hospitals. Restaurant owners are happy that they are receiving a reprieve from having to pay someone to take away their old, unusable oil. It can cost as much as $22 to take away five gallons of unusable cooking oil. Since the New York ban on trans fats, restaurants are now using cleaner oils and must change their oil more frequently. So, if more restaurants choose to participate, there could be an even greater supply of (almost) free and environmentally friendly fuel.

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