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It isn’t hard to find campus beauty shots of buildings and landscapes designed to entice students—and parents—to spend their time and money. But no matter how “green” a college or university looks in photographs, schools are beginning to be held to a much more sophisticated standard when it comes to sustainability. 

More and more students are considering sustainability as they make their college choices. That means the decisions leaders make about factors like campus-wide power generation are about more than just bottom-line dollars and cents—especially in the Northeast, where heating oil is still in widespread use.

A prime example? Harvard has moved aggressively to make its campus carbon neutral by 2030, and to become completely fossil fuel free by 2050. Carbon neutral power generation is the important first step, and decision-makers might be surprised at how straightforward it is to reach that goal. 

What does “carbon neutral” actually mean? It’s achieving a balance between the carbon a particular fuel releases into the air when it’s burned vs. the amount of carbon removed from the air during its lifecycle. For traditional fossil fuels pulled from the ground, like heating oil or gasoline, the only way to “remove” carbon and get to neutral is for an organization to buy credits or offsets—investments that go toward initiatives like wind farms or carbon-capturing forestry projects. 

Carbon offsets can be cumbersome and expensive, and organizations relying on them often have to wait months or years for regulatory and financial roadblocks to clear before they take effect. 

A more direct—and efficient—route for universities to take is to plug a carbon-neutral fuel source into the power generation system it already has. Products like Lifecycle Renewables’ Truburn convert plant-derived used cooking oil into fuel that can be used in conventional oil-fired heating systems. Cooking oil is derived from vegetables like soy—which pull carbon dioxide from the air when they grow. When used cooking oil is converted to heating oil and burned, it’s a carbon neutral cycle. 

Better yet, burning vegetable oil is also cleaner than burning fossil fuel-derived oil. Power systems using Truburn produce more than 80 percent less greenhouse gasses—and recycled cooking oil is a sustainable fuel that would otherwise end up in waste water systems or being used in a less environmentally friendly way.

Schools like Harvard in Massachusetts and Keene State College in New Hampshire have transitioned to sustainable fuels like Truburn to make quicker progress toward carbon neutral power generation. In the near term, they can keep the legacy oil-burning systems they have in place but run them more cleanly and sustainably as they make long-term plans for their eventual replacement. 

To see how recycled cooking oil can help your campus move toward carbon neutral power generation, talk to a Truburn energy advisor for a no-obligation system analysis.