Gordon Commons boiler uses cooking oil to heat water

Dec. 1, 2009

by Kiera Wiatrak

The University of Wisconsin-Madison's Division of University Housing has cooked up the latest in energy savings. Nearly three months ago, officials installed a boiler in Gordon Commons that uses spent cooking oil as an energy source.

Funded in part by a federal grant of nearly $25,000 from the Wisconsin Office of Energy Independence, the boiler heats a large portion of the building's hot water supply and recycles most of the cafeteria's leftover vegetable oil.

Officials purchased a boiler both as a money-saving venture and as a step forward in conservation.

"Our campus is a leader in many different things," says University Housing assistant director Michael Kinderman. "This is one of the few vegetable oil boilers that are out there in an institution like ours. It's a good way for us to try something out and actually prove that it makes a difference.

Between 75 and 100 gallons of spent cooking oil is pumped into a tank adjacent to the boiler. The boiler draws the oil into the boiler with a pump and burns the oil at a rate of a little more than 1.5 gallons of oil per hour. One gallon of oil is enough to heat about 225-250 gallons of hot water in the facility.

The boiler requires little attention from the staff and is relatively cheap to maintain. Mark Mueller, University Housing food service operations maintenance supervisor, says that aside from quarterly and annual maintenance checks, staff members spend between 30 minutes and an hour each week servicing the boiler.

The experience has been so positive that officials plan on moving the boiler to the new Gordon Commons facility when it opens in a couple of years and have considered purchasing another for the Lakeshore area.

"I think we owe it to not only our area here but to our country and the world to make things better for everybody so we don't leave this bad imprint as time goes on," Mueller says.

The boiler's innovative energy savings have caught the attention of the other Big Ten schools, whose facilities officers were given tours in October.

The boiler is one of a number of green initiatives on behalf of University Housing. They have been campus leaders in buying local produce, composting and finding alternative cooking methods that will reduce waste.