Leftover cooking oil from University dining halls will soon contribute to an expanding renewable energy industry.
Connecticut-based Greenleaf Biofuels is planning construction of a biodiesel production facility in New Haven. If everything works out as planned, the plant will produce an estimated 10 million gallons of renewable fuel per year. It is intended to replace other heating and transportation fuels and would make it the largest facility of its kind in New England, according to the company’s website.
In regards to how the plant will benefit New Haven and the surrounding area, Gus Kellogg, founder and chief executive officer of Greenleaf Biofuels, said “We’ll be buying raw materials locally.”
The plant will be located next to the harbor within the New Haven Terminal. Kellogg explained that his company would work with other smaller companies that are in the business of collecting waste vegetable oil. Such companies, some of which are local, often rely on used cooking oil taken from New Haven restaurants and University dining halls.
With respect to the decision to work with the other companies, Kellogg said, “We determined very early on that it would be difficult for us to go out and collect 10 million gallons a year.”
Once the raw material is collected, Greenleaf will produce the biodiesel in a two-stage chemical process in which the oil is converted into carbon chains that are similar to diesel fuel and heating oil, Kellogg explained.
Greenleaf Biofuels sought permission to build the production facility at a New Haven Board of Zoning Appeals meeting last week. But before the company’s bid can be approved, the City Plan Commission must conduct a coastal site plan review of the proposed construction area. Kellogg said he thinks the plant will get final local approval in March.
A. Walter Esdaile, a member of the New Haven Zoning Board of Appeals, explained that the committee’s responsibility is to look at whether a request to build adheres to the established rules of property use. The board referred Greenleaf’s request to the City Plan Commission for further review and will make a final decision once the commission gives its opinion.
Victor Fasano, another member of the Zoning Board, said that City Plan provides an expert basis which the board considers in conjunction with other merits of the project, including public support and opposition. Outside of the context of the Zoning Board’s responsibility, Fasano said he supports the facility being built in New Haven because of the beneficial economic impact new businesses and industries have on the city.
“We’ve lost our industrial base in New Haven; we’ve got to find something to build up the employment factor and the tax factor,” Fasano said. “I’m willing to give it a chance, and see what they can do with it.”
Greenleaf Biofuels has previous ties to Yale, including past research collaboration with the Center for Green Chemistry & Green Engineering at Yale as well as other smaller labs.
“I’m very cognizant of the fact that there’s some potential for commercializing intellectual products that come out of the University,” Kellogg said.
Moreover, Kellogg explained how his company has considered the ways in which Yale could benefit from biofuel produced through the new facility. Greenleaf and members of the administration have discussed the possibility of supplying the University with biodiesel that could be used in the shuttle buses, among other applications.
Despite all the business benefits of having a biodiesel plant, there are few associated environmental drawbacks. Using waste vegetable oil to produce biofuels is “benign” compared to other methods, said Rob Bailis, assistant professor in the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. In addition, there is a clear cost benefit in using a renewable waste product to make fuel.
“Having someone who’s willing to take it away for free or even willing to pay for it rather than disposing of it through other means is pretty much a win-win situation for everyone involved,” Bailis said.
Without specific knowledge of Greenleaf’s project, Bailis added the production process of biofuels typically requires use of some harmful substances. However, assuming the correct standards are followed, he said in general, production is not incredibly detrimental to the environment.
The Zoning Board of Appeals will make a final decision on Greenleaf’s request next month.