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Technology Worth Waiting For

Cooking oil generatorWe’re energized! The commissary in our North Atlantic region now has the United State’s first-of-its-kind renewable energy generation system. The commissary uses its own spent cooking oil to power its electricity needs.

When we finally flipped the switch on this innovative project at the Everett, Massachusetts facility on August 13, I let out breath I had been warned not to hold. You see, our energy team and our implementation partner have been working on this seemingly simple technology upgrade for more than four years. A lesson in patience, this project also illustrates of the kinds of challenges that small alternative-energy companies face when it comes to to providing businesses and consumers with choices beyond the grid.

Here’s the background. Our 45,000-square foot North Atlantic Commissary supplies more than 40 stores in Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York and New Jersey with much of their prepared foods. Preparing these foods in one location is really helpful to our stores, especially since many of our smaller stores don’t have the room to prepare these types of fresh foods. Operating around the clock, the commissary’s kitchen requires a lot of electricity and produces more than 1,200 gallons of spent cooking oil each week.

As of this year, with development and implementation help from Lifecycle Renewables, Inc., our commissary’s waste cooking oil, along with that from nearly two dozen nearby Whole Foods Market® stores, is clean, chemical-free biofuel for an internal combustion engine custom designed to use canola oil to generate electricity and usable heat to offset the power needs for the facility.

Cooking oil generatorThe use of the system is projected to reduce electricity costs by about 20%. And the environmental benefits? The generator can meet the annual electricity needs of the entire commissary, just over 2,000,000 kWh’s, without relying on the grid. New carbon dioxide emissions are avoided by producing power with waste biomass. Even better, vegetable oil fuel exhaust emissions contain almost no sulfur oxides and sulfates, which are major contributors to acid rain. Finally, the waste oil is reused instead of dumped or fed to livestock (as is sometimes done in the industry). From our perspective, these are a lot of positives!

This project took four long years to come to fruition but it was definitely worth is and we think it’s a good fit for the portfolio of alternative energy options that we’re using at our facilities throughout the company.

What’s your latest small-scale energy-saving scheme? Are you using a clothesline, looking into a solar-charger for your phone or pedaling your bicycle to school or work? Do you know anyone who’s done a waste oil conversion for their car or truck?


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Kristi says …

This sounds like such a cool idea. I am curious, though, about the statements: "The use of the system is projected to reduce electricity costs by about 20%." vs "The generator can meet the annual electricity needs of the entire commissary" If the generator is meeting the electricity needs, why is it only reducing costs by 20%? What is the rest of the cost? (I'm not trying to be annoying or critical, just curious about the math). My house doesn't have much of an alternative energy scheme yet. We do drive one hybrid car (possibly a second when our other car gets replaced in the next few years), and we've been pricing solar panel systems for a while. Acquaintenances always point out that the dollar cost of the solar can be more than the savings on the electric bill, but that' isn't the primary driver for us. Same with driving a hybrid car--even if we are paying more actual $'s for the car than we save in gas $, we are still saving resources. Every little bit helps!

lewis bush says …

this is awesome!! ive heard of biodiesel but never bio-stores.. and since the store uses cooking oil any way to cook up its delicacies, its like a human being that is nourished by eating its own poop. the perfect being.

Kathy Loftus says …

Hi Kristi, Thanks for your comment and question. This is new technology and more costly than a traditional on- site or back-up generator. Also, traditional electricity costs have decreased significantly since we started developing this project. Rather than us buying the system outright, since operating a cutting edge on-site electrical generation system is not our core business(!), we chose to enter a purchase power agreement with Lifecycle Renewables. They own, operate and maintain the system, and we pay for the power generated at a rate lower than what we pay the utility. We still need the utility as back up for when the unit is under planned maintenance or if something unexpected happens, and also for when it is not able to cover the full load, and that means we still have an obligation for some costs to the utility. I hope this answers your question, and I wish you the best with your pursuit of renewable energy for your home and purchasing a hybrid vehicle. Every little bit can add up to a lot of resource savings! Kathy Loftus, Global Leader- Sustainable Engineering & Energy Management for Whole Foods Market

nik says …

Bravo! Every step forward in this direction benefits the whole planet! We participate in a local Makerspace where several members have converted their vehicles to alternative fuel and are happy to teach anyone how to do it. So helpful...love these people!

Cassandra says …

My dad actually converted his old diesel truck to run on used cooking oil. Very cool WFM!