Friday, May 3, 2013

IDEASS Feature Project: Making the Best of an Oil Grease Mess

Written by Hanna Haas, IDEASS Outreach Coordinator 

Greasy, gross, and... green? Students in the Impact Designs: Engineering and Sustainability through Student Service (IDEASS) program are working with the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf to turn leftover restaurant grease, otherwise a waste product, into fuel, an asset that will contribute to making the Santa Cruz Wharf even greener.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Ori Kedar, who has volunteered to work as a mentor with a team of three IDEASS students, Kevin Dang (Environmental Studies and Economics), Shyon Kishani (Chemistry), and Matt Claxton (Chemistry). The team meets regularly with Jon Bombaci who is the acting Supervisor for operations on the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf.  

Together they are contributing to a larger effort to help Santa Cruz demonstrate what can be done to live more sustainably by concentrating on something that most people either assume to be a waste product or simply ignore: the yellow grease leftover from restaurant fryers.

Collectively, the restaurants leasing space on the Santa Cruz Wharf produce a significant amount of yellow grease, and the team is looking at how to transform what is now treated as a waste product into an asset.  Specifically they are looking at the potential to process yellow grease on site. The yellow grease can be transformed into a fuel stock that can be combusted to run a generator, which produces electricity. Additionally, as Kedar explained, they are also looking at the potential for incarceration of organic solid waste, which would produce heat to run a steam turbine generator and produce electricity.

The students have also been looking at what infrastructure would be necessary to produce such an alternative waste disposal system and the net associated costs. To do this the team has been collecting data to prepare an economic assessment of what it is currently costing the wharf to remove the grease along with other solids in the waste stream. They will present these figures to stakeholders at the Master Plan meeting before making recommendations to invest in proposed solutions.

IDEASS is a 3-quarter service-learning course offered through Baskin Engineering in cooperation with the Environmental Studies Department but is open to qualified students from any major. This year,  IDEASS successfully launched 11 ambitious sustainable design projects – most of which directly involve off-campus organizations and professionals working to make innovative advances in creating what some have recognized as the  emerging “green economy.”

According to Kedar, IDEASS is “a great opportunity to use what you learn in the class about sustainability and apply it to the real world.” He suggests that by working in the community, “you have an opportunity to work with different ethical organizations, [and] leave a mark.” He adds, “If you find an area you are interested in, you can make a career. Many times, if a project doesn’t get completed, they may hire students to see it through.”

What an opportunity! If you would like to apply to IDEASS, please visit the IDEASS website to fill out the application online, or email the IDEASS instructors for more information at

1 comment:

jelly andrews said...

This seems very promising. If their ideas are further developed, maybe this would be the solution to the increasing price of fuel. And I guess this would also address the issues concerning sewer blockage due to grease.