Making Pitt’s Grease Waste Fit for the Road

Issue Date: 
June 1, 2015

How many Saturday mornings have you stared down at the leftover grease from your bacon and debated—yet again—what you should do with it? It can’t go down the sink, lest you destroy your pipes. No one has coffee cans any more, so collecting it like your grandmother did is out, too. Eventually, the grease solidifies and you scrape it from the pan into the trash with a resolute slup. The whole thing is a messy hassle and a waste, especially when all you wanted to do was eat.

Imagine, then, the 30,000 meals served per day across Pitt’s campus and the cooking oil that results. Where—literally—on earth is that going to go?

For the past few years, pumps in all those kitchens have drained the used oil from cooking equipment into huge jugs that sit on four Pitt loading docks. Four times a year, a truck arrives to suck the oil out of the jugs, clean up what’s left, and haul the goods to nearby Braddock, Pa. 

There, Fossil Free Fuel—an entrepreneurial firm devoted to renewable energy strategies—nonchemically processes the oil to remove particulates and turns it into fuel for retrofitted diesel engines. Carbon emissions reduce by 85 percent when reused cooking oil is substituted for petroleum-diesel fuel. The partnership between Pitt and Fossil Free Fuel makes for a double environmental whammy by keeping the entire process in the Pittsburgh area.

In 2014, Pitt’s creative grease-refuse approach kept 65,000 pounds of CO2 from being released into the air. Or, to look at it another way, the 68.7 barrels of cooking oil powered the equivalent of six passenger vehicles for an entire year.

“It’s a significant amount,” says senior Nick Goodfellow, Student Sustainability Coordinator for Pitt’s Dining Services, about the greasy venture. “And it’s a minimal effort on anybody’s part. Everybody wins.”