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Used cooking oil gets new use as biofuel

DEC Checking gauges

Heather Hardcastle bids farewell to Steve Ball, environmental officer aboard Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas. Heather and Steve developed a successful protocol to recycle used cooking oil.

Heather Hardcastle likes to think green. So does Royal Caribbean Cruises.

So when Heather approached the company about recycling its used cooking oil, the response was positive. Together the Juneau fisherwoman and the cruise line worked out a protocol with the Coast Guard that resulted in the collection of about 6,000 gallons of used cooking oil last season.

“We felt this was a win-win situation – we get to recycle our used cooking oil in a sustainable manner but we were also able to do so by working with a local, women-run company leading the way in developing a clean energy solution,” Jamie Sweeting, Vice President for Environmental Stewardship at Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (RCCL), said.

The cooking oil experiment arose from a desire by Heather and her business partner, Kirsten Walker, to turn commercial salmon waste into renewable energy. The two call their operation Fishermen’s Daughters Ecofuels and secured a state grant in 2008. The grant helped pay for development of the cooking oil protocol and relationship building.

“Basically we were trying to figure out – legally and logistically – if it could be done,” Heather said.

Once RCCL’s management said yes, Heather worked closely with Paul Turner, the environmental officer on Serenade of the Seas.

“We came up with a protocol to offload 275-gallon polyethylene tote tanks filled with cooking oil onto our tender. We use forks or harnesses to offload the tanks, which worked really slick. It was really important to the Coast Guard that we offload the whole container as opposed to pumping oil from the ship to the tender,” Heather said.

RCCL is so pleased with the program that they plan to extend it to both Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises ships this season.

“Our overall experience in 2009 gave us the opportunity to increase the program to include all our ships visiting Alaska,” Sweeting said.

If Heather and her partner can increase cooking oil collection to 20,000 gallons, they plan to purchase a biodiesel processor. In the interim, some of the 6,000 gallons from last season will be sold and the two will use the rest to fuel their own business.

While the cooking oil program has been a great success, the women have discovered that fish waste might not be viable as a biofuel. The same fatty acids that give salmon oil its health benefits complicate its use as a fuel. “But there are other ways of utilizing fisheries byproduct,” Heather said.

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