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Laughing Stock Farm: Replacing Petroleum Fuels With Used Restaurant Cooking Oils

  • Ralph Turner, owner of Laughing Stock Farm in Freeport, discusses his use of used cooking oil to heat his greenhouses. The alternative fuel solution allows Turner and his wife Lisa to operate their greenhouses in the winter.

To meet both economic and environmental goals, Ralph Turner, who, with his wife Lisa owns and operates Laughing Stock Farm a vegetable farm in Freeport, researched and found an alternative heating solution for their greenhouses. In 2003 after some trial and error, Turner discovered Clean Burn, a Pennsylvania-based waste-oil heating systems manufacturer. Using a grant from the Maine Department of Agriculture, Turner purchased one of their burners designed to burn used petroleum fuel.

With minor modifications to the burner, Turner was able to burn used cooking oil collected from nearby Freeport restaurants. Restaurants had been required to pay to dispose of the oil, so Turner's offer to take it from them at no charge was a win-win solution. He got fuel to heat his greenhouses in the winter at a cost that, when factoring in his expenses for collection and processing, was still much less than the price of petroleum. The restaurants did not have to pay disposal fees. An additional win comes in the form of reduced or eliminated emissions from burning a renewable fuel.

Turner has since purchased enough burners to heat the farm's five greenhouses and barn totaling over 14,000 square feet, using approximately 10,000 gallons annually, at a cost of $1.25 per gallon. With oil prices near or at $4 per gallon in spring of 2011, that represents an annual savings of $27,000 to $28,000. The savings have allowed the Turners to heat their greenhouses in the winter, thereby serving their restaurant, retail and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shareholders throughout the year.

While this innovative alternative energy solution won't be certified for residential applications in the near future, Ralph is working with the American society for Testing Materials (ASTM) to develop a standard that will meet UL requirements for certification in commercial applications and believes a standard will be available soon.

He is a strong proponent and is willing to discuss it with anyone interested in commercial applications. He can be reached at ralph@laughingstock.com or by cell phone (207) 831-2182. 

Visit them on the web at www.laughingstockfam.com

Project recommended: Maybe, it depends.

There is no current standard available for the fuel so no UL certification required by code. However, Ralph is working with the American society for Testing Materials (ASTM) to develop a standard that will meet UL requirements for certification.

Capital investment is also a roadblock for many, but with the UL certification, it will likely become eligible for grant funding for alternative fuels.

Project budget:

$20,000grantMaine Department of Agriculture (state government)

This is an ongoing project.

Our decision to pursue this project was influenced by:

  • Newsletter
  • Website

Project impacts:

Primary impact focus: Economic

  • $28,000 per year saved in heating cost
  • 100 percent less sulfur emission than petroleum
  • 30 percent less carbon emission than petroleum
  • 40 percent less particulate emission than petroleum

Key goals:

  • Lower costs have allowed Laughing Stock Farm to remain open in the winter This goal was achieved.

Action steps:

  • Web research for new technology
  • Funding application
  • Evaluation and revision

Technical assistance needed:

Lessons learned:

  • A simple adjustment to existing technology allowed it to work with used cooking oils
  • Discovery and new implementation of an old technology
  • That it works

Project categories:

Participating partners:

For more information, contact:

Ralph Turner — Freeport, ME

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