Tierra Verde Finds a Fuel Alternative for Its Mowers: Cooking Oil
By Office of Communication
Posted on July 02, 2012, July 02, 2012

Who knew the answer to efficient, cost-effective lawn care at Tierra Verde Golf Club would be found in the kitchen of the club's full-service restaurant, and atop the grill, no less.

Cooking oil used to prepare food at Ventana Grille is also being used to propel lawnmowers.

Since March, waste oil has been converted to biodiesel and used to fuel Tierra Verde's 13 mowers that dutifully maintain the course's sleek, professional landscaping.

The oil is collected and stored in tanks, sent through a biodiesel processor and cleaned before being converted to biofuel.

The chemical process is called trans esterification, in which the oil is heated to 130 degrees Fahrenheit and mixed with methanol. Biodiesel is created within a matter of hours.

Tierra Verde Golf Club Superintendent Mark Claburn said the idea of biodiesel conversion came up in 2008 when diesel fuel was topping $4 a gallon and a number of other golf courses across the country were trying out the process.

"It made a lot of sense," Claburn said, due in part to a multitude of benefits besides cost. Alternative fuels reduce pollutant emissions compared to conventional fuels, reduces the energy and environmental impact, extend mower life, reduces fuel spillage and certainly fits well with Tierra Verde's mission for environmental excellence.

In 2000, Tierra Verde became the first golf course in the state of Texas to receive certification as a Certified Signature Sanctuary from Audubon International. The designation also made Tierra Verde the first municipal golf course in the world to achieve such an honor.

"It really is an effective way to reduce our fuel use," Claburn said of the alternative fuel that services the mowers, a pair of tractors, and a few vehicles.

"We checked with equipment manufacturers first to make sure they would be okay with us putting biodiesel in the mowers and since a lot of people were already doing it they were fine with it and in fact said that it actually makes the mowers run better."

Engine operation improves because of diesel fuel's lubricity and combustion quality.

The major equipment Tierra Verde didn't have for this pilot program was the biodiesel processor. That problem was solved with a grant from the Arlington Tomorrow Foundation.

As for cost savings, "We can make the biodiesel for $1 a gallon and out of cooking oil and we were paying $4 a gallon at the time," said Claburn.

That means the club stands to save more than $1,500 this year and well over $3,000 the following year.

Since costs can only get better as they retrieve more used cooking oil, Claburn is hoping to partner with the Water Utilities Department and connect with residents who'd like discounted golfing time at Tierra Verde in exchange for handing over their oil after frying turkeys and such during the holidays.

"We'd be more than happy to take that off their hands," Claburn said, "and make more fuel with it."

By Ken Perkins

Cooking Oil

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