OBERLIN – Â A pleasant whiff of what appears to be hot frying grease floats in the air behind a powerful Kubota tractor mowing large tracts of land at Oberlin College.
That`s because the tractor has been converted to run on vegetable-oil instead of fossil fuels.
“It smells like McDonald`s or Burger King when it goes down the road,” said Oberlin Grounds Services Manager Dennis Greive.
The ecologically friendly tractor has been in use for several weeks now and is powered by cooking oil with expired dates, Greive said.
Ultimately, the plan is for the tractor to run on used cooking grease from the college dining halls, he said.
With help from Sam Merrett, an Oberlin College graduate who runs Full Circle Fuels, the college installed a tank for vegetable oil on the tractor and kept the diesel tank.
When first started, the tractor must run on diesel fuel before the vegetable oil is heated enough for a switchover. It takes about 15 minutes in the summer, and the college does not yet know how long it will take in the winter when the tractor is used for snow removal.
The tractor conversion is similar to diesel conversions done on diesel cars and trucks at Full Circle Fuels on South Main Street.
The project is supported by the Green Ecological Design and General Efficiency Fund, which was created in 2007 to encourage sustainability projects initiated by students and community members.
Oberlin College vehicles – including the grounds tractors – burn more than 3,000 gallons of diesel fuel a year, resulting in 33 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. The tractor conversion will reduce the college`s consumption of fossil fuels by at least 700 gallons and eliminate more than 7 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. The college also expects to cut fuel costs by about $1,500 a year.
The conversion of the tractor should pay for itself through energy savings in a couple of years, Greive said.
Greive said the company that supplies the kit needed for the conversion did not know of any other colleges with veggie-powered tractors, so Oberlin could be plowing new ground as it cuts grass.
So far there are no hiccups with the new system under hard usage, he said.
“We mow grass with it up to eight hours at a time,” he said.
Nathan Engstrom, coordinator of the college`s Office of Environmental Sustainability, said every ton of carbon dioxide emissions the college is able to eliminate is another step toward reaching the goal of carbon neutrality.
“The more creative and innovative we can be, the sooner we`ll reach that goal and the less money we`ll have to spend to get there,” Engstrom said.
While there are no concrete plans to convert additional vehicles, the success of the tractor conversion could lead to other vehicles being converted in the future, according to Greive and Engstrom.