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Program turns used oil into fuel

Apr. 08, 2015 @ 05:55 PM
By Jamica Whitaker, Dispatch staff
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OXFORD — A local school district is putting something different in its gas tanks.

Vance County Schools teamed up with Green Circle North Carolina and its initiative Biodiesel 4 Schools, which turns used cooking oil into renewable fuel.

“It’s a wonderful, innovative, cutting edge way of looking at things,” said Dean Price, co-owner of Green Circle North Carolina. “It’s economic development. It’s agriculture. It’s education. It’s all those things wrapped up into this project. We’ll be the model to teach the rest of the state.”

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MARK DOLEJS / Dispatch Staff Biodiesel 4 Schools operates a facility on the campus of the Bio Energy Research Initiative in Oxford. Storage containers will be used to store used cooking oil from local restaurants before it is refined at the facility.

Biodiesel 4 Schools raises money to support local classrooms by asking area restaurants and grocery stores to donate used cooking oil to be processed and turned into biodiesel. Since the program’s start in 2012, Price said there are 12 school systems participating so far, including Franklin County and Durham schools. About 1,000 restaurants contribute their used oil.

This is the first time Vance County Schools has entered into this kind of partnership, district officials said in a press release. The goal of the program is to make biofuels more accessible — and to bring together economic development and agriculture.

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MARK DOLEJS / Dispatch Staff Dean Price’s program called Biodiesel 4 Schools is being initiated with Vance County Schools. The county’s schools are partnering with the program to collect used cooking oil from local restaurants for bio-energy.

But more than that, Price hopes the partnership with the district will lead to a biofuels curriculum and field trips to the Oxford station to teach children about the local fuel source.

Biodiesel 4 Schools provides participating restaurants and grocery stores with containers to store the used oil then pick it up weekly to be processed.

Biodiesel is a biodegradable fuel made from renewable resources. It can be used in most diesel engines without major modifications. Price said there’s a one-to-one conversion rate of used oil to biodiesel.

Every gallon of recycled cooking oil sold as biofuel means 25 cents to the school district for educational services and programs. Plus, the biodiesel can be used in school buses and other vehicles.

The bio-refinery at the Bio Energy Research Initiative is one of four across the state and can create 500 gallons of biodiesel in eight hours, Price said. The other three are in Benson, Kernersville and Charlotte.

The potential for biofuels goes beyond used cooking oil to local farmers growing the seed crops needed to produce local cooking oil and biofuel.

Canola — a plant used for biodiesel — is a winter crop that is comparable in production costs to winter wheat and converts to 40 percent oil and 60 percent feed for livestock, Price said.

Paul McKenzie, a local agriculture extension agent, said North Carolina farmers are growing canola but not near the levels of more traditional crops like tobacco or soybeans.

“If there’s a market for canola, farmers here can certainly grow it,” he said.

The demand for fuel is what pushed Price into biodiesel in the first place. When Hurricane Katrina stopped the flow of fuel to his Virginia truck stop, Price said he built a biodiesel refinery next door and sold the product.

But after experiencing the instability of the fuel market, Price said he sold the business and turned his focus to helping schools.

Stuart Litvin, director of Henderson-Vance County Economic Development Commission, and Price have talked about the opportunities that biofuels can mean for the county economically.

“We definitely support renewable energy,” Litvin said. “We are willing to be a resource and work with him any way possible to bring a site here.”

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Dean Price of Biodiesel 4 Schools Featured in NY Times Bestseller

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Read the story of Dean Price, and what lead him to Biodiesel 4 Schools in this NY Times Bestseller, "The Unwinding" by George Packer.