Volume 43 | Number 1 | Fall 2012

Mathew and Robin Colling with two boxes of the oil that they are using to produce fuel.

ISU Photographic Services/Susan Duncan

Going Green with a Scent of Hamburgers and Fries

Fall 2012 Issue | By Andrew Taylor

As it passes by on the way to pick up recycling materials, Idaho State University's biodiesel John Deere Gator work vehicle emits a smell closer to that of hamburgers and fries than the smoky, acrid scent produced by traditional diesel-power vehicles.

The Gator is running on cooking oil the ISU Rendezvous Complex and the Pond Student Union converted to be used as a biodiesel fuel.

"We're using fryer oil that was previously going to waste to sustain our recycling program," said Robin Colling, environmental and safety manager for ISU Facilities Services. "And our biodiesel is a carbon neutral, EPA-preferred fuel. It also has other good attributes. It is nontoxic to the environment in a spill. It degrades faster than sugar and is less toxic than salt."

Colling conceived the idea to use ISU's waste cooking oil for the better good when, as superintendent of custodial services, he was completing a "routine walk-through" of the College of Technology's Roy F. Christensen Building. When walking through that building's kitchen he saw students draining fryer oil into metal drums for disposal.

"That got me thinking that oil could be put to better use," Colling said.

He and his son, Mathew Colling, put their idea into action. Mathew and Robin both had an interest in biodiesel fuel, and the younger Colling had some experience working with it.

"My dad and I got information together and researched it," said Mathew, 25, who has earned an associate degree in welding from ISU and is currently a chemistry major. "We got hooked up with the chemistry lab at ISU and they let us use it in the summer when it was empty, and that's where we put our first test batch together."

The first batch produced about a liter of fuel. Now ISU Facilities Services is producing up to 40 gallons of biodiesel per week and has plans for producing more from cooking oil collected from the College of Technology kitchen, Garrison Hall and the Pond Student Union.

Furthermore, ISU's biodiesel production has grown into more than just a sustainable, green energy source for Idaho State University because it now also features an academic component. Facilities Services works with the College of Technology's Energy Systems Technology and Education Center (ESTEC) to produce biodiesel and train students at the same time.

"ESTEC really likes the biodiesel program because it gives them a real-world system to train their students on and give them real-world, hands-on experience," Mathew said. "Together, ESTEC and Facilities Services are continually checking to see what we can do to make the fuel better and more efficiently. We keep refining the process to make a better product quicker. We accomplish the goal of educating people and at the exact same time we get the benefits of sustainability and saving money."

Facilities Services has created a mobile biodiesel-processing unit that can be set up at different sites to produce fuel, and the mobile unit is also painted, which advertises the program. The biodiesel unit was pulled in last year's ISU Homecoming Parade, which prompted a lot of questions and comments about ISU's recycling biodiesel program.

Robin said that he's proud his department is using a green, carbon-neutral fuel to power the vehicles that pick up recycling around campus. The fuel can also be used to power campus lawn mowers and snowplows.

"We're using a waste product to sustain our recycling program," Robin said. "And we intend to produce and use more biodiesel for other programs."

Overall, Facility Services' Custodial Services has beefed up ISU's recycling efforts, undertaking a larger role in collecting and managing recycling at the University since September 2010. This has resulted in a greater amount of recycling materials being collected.

ISU Custodial Services implemented a new system to collect recycling at most buildings on campus (auxiliary groups still collect recycling at some ISU main campus buildings). They created new areas for collecting recycling in buildings, and found a place to temporarily store the collected recycling before it is transported from the ISU campus. Managers also formed teams and had to figure out what the cost of recycling was in terms of staffing and mileage. More recycling bins were distributed around campus, and that number of bins continues to grow as the whole program grows.

"We incorporated recycling into the team activities our custodians complete on a nightly basis," said Loretta Taylor, custodial services manager.

Since September 2010 Facilities Services has collected more than 177,000 pounds of paper, plastic and aluminum on the Pocatello campus and has become the primary recycling entity on campus, although other recycling groups remain active at some buildings.

In 2011, Facilities Services recycled 73.5 tons of materials and its pace of collection has grown in 2012. In 2012, recycled materials included more than 57,000 pounds of cardboard, 29,000 pounds of white paper, 53,900 pounds of office pack (non-white paper), 3,768 pounds of plastics and metal, and 2,385 pounds of newspaper.

The money ISU receives for its recycled materials also helps offset the cost of the program.

Facilities Services recycling efforts were boosted in April 2012 when the Coca-Cola Foundation awarded a grant to ISU and issued 72 recycling bins designed specifically for placement at locations around the Pocatello campus. ISU Facilities Services business officer Jamie Hansen wrote the grant. Coca-Cola received more than 1,000 applicants for that grant and ISU was one of 48 entities selected.

Recycling and creating biodiesel are only two parts of Idaho State University's extensive green efforts.

"We're looking for better ways to complete and expand our recycling and other green programs," said Robin Colling. "We want to leave as light an environmental footprint as we can."

For example, in recent years, just by changing the lighting in ISU main campus parking lots, ISU has saved 203,000 kilowatts of electricity annually. In the larger buildings on campus Facilities Services is switching to LED lighting to reduce wattage and is reducing energy costs on heating and cooling, and using less water.

"In the future, we're looking at some bigger proposals and grants for a variety of projects and we're looking at developing a lot more solar power and using more electric vehicles," Colling said.

Colling has plans big and small for improving ISU's green efforts, and he's not opposed to harboring some big visions.

"I'd like to move a lot more into solar power," Colling said. "A big dream of mine, sometime a long way down the road, would be to have solar stalls on our parking lots. You could have solar panels for roofing and the cars could park in the shade, and there would be a charging station pole for electric cars to plug into for an added benefit.

"I'd also like to have underground tanks for water under our parking lots that capture storm water that we could use to water grass," added Colling.

These latter visions may seem like pipe dreams now, but the department that began ISU's biodiesel program and expanded its recycling efforts has proven it can be creative and effective in green endeavors.