Oil and water may not mix. But oil and revenue most certainly do.
On their quest toward zero waste, many retailers overlook oil as a potential source of profit. In most of their commercial kitchens, used cooking oil is woefully wasted or simply thrown out.
It needn’t be, according to alternative energy experts. Just ask Whole Foods Market or Buehler’s Food Markets.
Each week, Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods repurposes around 1,000 gallons of waste cooking oil from 28 of its stores in the Northeast. The company sends the oil out to be refined, and then uses returned product to power a 70,000-square-foot commercial kitchen facility, which produces food for 62 Whole Foods locations throughout the region.
“This project has helped us to not only minimize waste, but also to support our goals for finding cleaner energy sources, while easing the burden on the local electricity grid,” said Kathy Loftus, global leader of sustainable engineering, maintenance and energy management for Whole Foods Market. “We couldn’t be more excited that what began as a vision is now another real life demonstration of our core values of supporting and enriching our communities and the environment.”
Indeed, the benefits are many. Along with lessening the environmental impact, the chain also anticipates saving approximately 20% of the energy and waste disposal costs at the commissary.
Lifecycle Renewables of Marblehead, Mass., is the biofuel business that refines Whole Foods Market’s oil. It combines the retailer’s 1,000 gallons of weekly waste with that of other regional producers, including restaurants, food manufacturers and even a Norwegian Cruise Line vessel that frequents a local port.
Once processed, around 12,000 gallons of the clean, usable oil is returned to Whole Foods to power its cooking facility each month.
“To warrant having such an extensive system in place, a supermarket should have a minimum energy demand of 250 kilowatts. That is when it starts to make good economic sense from a scale of perspective and utilization,” said Rory Gaunt, Lifecycle Renewables’ CEO. “Those with lesser energy demands can still make the decision to sell their oil to be turned into a renewable energy like biofuel.”