Used Cooking Oil is Heating NRDC's New York Office
Posted March 13, 2014
With super-storms and snow-pocalypses hitting our region left and right, buildings in New York City have been turning up the heat. The typical building in New York City supplies heat through the use of fossil fuels, either natural gas or heating oil – and this is responsible for 46% of NYC GHG emissions. At the beginning of this winter, however, NRDC’s New York office made a switch to using biofuels in an effort to pursue its Sustainable Operations goal: To continually move our operations along the cutting edge of sustainability management. With the help of the our Facilities Management team and students from Columbia University’s Sustainability Management Program, who conducted a feasibility study of Net Zero Energy in the New York office for their final Capstone Project, we were able to identify areas in which we could improve our energy efficiency while reducing our emissions.
Switching to biodiesel for our heating system was one option highlighted in the Net Zero report that would both cut emissions immediately and save money. Biodiesel made from waste grease, also known as used cooking oil, has replaced our conventional No. 2 heating oil (also known as diesel fuel) used in our boiler. “This was an easy adoption as our current boiler required only minor modifications in this conversion and the switch aligned with our sustainability objectives; we are very pleased with the results” said Milly Suarez, Office Administrator, who orchestrated the switch, after the supplier, Tri-State Biodiesel, was identified and vetted by our sustainability consultant, Closed Loop Advisors.
Through this change we are able to shift away from the use of combustible fuels, nearly eliminating the greenhouse gas emissions normally associated with burning heating fuels. How does this work? Biodiesel releases less carbon monoxide, particulates, sulfur, and various other nasty emissions than the diesel it replaces. But the big difference is that the carbon dioxide emitted is biogenic carbon, as opposed to carbon from fossil fuels. The carbon emitted when the fuel is burned originally came from plants that sequestered the carbon from the air, so it remains part of the carbon cycle, as opposed to being dredged up from ancient carbon deposits which would otherwise not have been in circulation, i.e., fossil fuels.
We are very proud of our step to cut CO2 emissions, but recognize that this particular type of biofuel, waste-grease based biodiesel, is in limited supply and other biofuel options come with more complexities. We use a company that is able to collect used cooking oil from local restaurants, purify it, and then deliver it to us to power our boiler. This is a very low-carbon option for us because if this oil were alternatively disposed of it would eventually release more global warming pollution in the form of methane as it decomposed.
Even though we have virtually eliminated greenhouse gas emissions from our heating fuel, we are still trying to minimize use of the new fuel. We have installed boiler controls to maximize efficiency of the heating system; sensors on each floor signal the boiler to turn on or off based on the set point temperature of the surrounding area. With this new system we are able to effectively regulate the temperatures on each floor to both provide a comfortable working environment for the employees and be maximally efficient in our energy use. Fuel consumption can be easily monitored with this new system and compared with benchmarks from previous years. We expect to see a 15% savings in heating fuel usage over the next year.
Increasing energy efficiency, ultimately becoming “net zero”, and minimizing our emissions wherever possible are key parts of our goal to be cutting edge in sustainability management – and the move to biodiesel alone reduced our NYC emissions by nearly 40%.
This blog was written in collaboration with Marisa Kaminski, Sustainability Intern, and the NY Facilities Management team.
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