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Cooking grease helps WORKTEC cut costs

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Amid the statewide gas shortage, WORKTEC, with the help of Clayton County Public Schools and some ingenuity, has found a way to cut its fuel costs in half.

Since early this summer, WORKTEC, a Jonesboro-based work training and development program for people with disabilities, has been using a 50-50 mix of recycled school cafeteria grease and diesel fuel to power its trucks and landscaping equipment. The cooking grease is collected from 57 public school cafeterias. So far, it has helped WORKTEC save $1,000 a month in diesel fuel costs.

John Burdin, project manager for landscape management at WORKTEC, is credited with suggesting the use of recycled grease after he read about it on an outdoor power equipment web site.

Before implementing the plan, Burdin consulted the City of Perry, Ga., which uses recycled grease. He then tested the system on his own diesel truck.

"I personally put the oil in my own truck," said Burdin. "I have pulled a 31-foot camper to South Carolina and back on a 50-50 mixture with no loss in fuel mileage or power."

In order to harvest the grease, however, WORKTEC had to get creative. To filter out the particulate matter left in the grease after cooking, WORKTEC created its own refinery.

"When the vegetable oil comes out of the school system and the other customers it is coming from, it is obviously dirty," said Burdin. "We created our own filtration system, where we put the oil through a number of filters and screens, after which it is ready to go into the vehicles."

Burdin said the grease partnership between WORKTEC and the school system is a "win-win situation" because it reduces costs for WORKTEC, and at the same time, allows the school system to discard its used cooking grease for free. Burdin said prior to the partnership, the school system paid a private company to dispose of the grease.

Dorothy Cochran, director of WORKTEC, said using grease will do much to help the organization in the long run.

"We are a not-for-profit, so any area in which we can save money will be useful for us," said Cochran. "You have to buy a lot of gas to go into the equipment that we are using to do landscape management. This will amount to an annual cost savings that will be significant."

Charles White, spokesperson for the Clayton County Board of Education, said the grease partnership shows ingenuity on the part of WORKTEC and "out-of-the-box thinking that should be applauded."

White believes it may be difficult for the school system to produce enough grease to implement the system on its 750-vehicle fleet of trucks, cars, and school buses. However, he saluted WORKTEC for using a cleaner-burning fuel that brings savings to the taxpayer.

"Anything that we can do to demonstrate that we are being mindful of our taxpayer dollars ... it is something that we want to keep promoting in the district," said White. "It's a great idea. It demonstrates that when you work together and try to think about a solution to a problem, you can find something that not only helps the school system, but Mother Nature as well."