Keene State switched to purified waste vegetable oil, LR-100, as their heat source in October 2016. Staff at Keene State College worked together to convince the college to switch to a cleaner fuel source. Supervisor of Plumbing and Heating Plant Operations Bill Rymes worked closely with Director of Campus Sustainability Cary Gaunt and Coordinator of Energy and Utility Services Diana Duffy during Keene State’s transition to LR-100.
The decision to switch fuel sources at Keene State College was influenced by the woodstove changeout campaign that the NH Department of Environmental Services and the City of Keene ran from October 26, 2009, to June 30, 2010.
“There had been an incentive by the state for woodstove buyback program in Keene,” Rymes said.
According to the final report on this campaign, prepared by the NH Department of Environmental Services, “Residential wood combustion was identified as a primary and significant contributor to the high particulate matter levels in Keene.”
The town’s efforts to reduce air pollution encouraged Keene State College to consider cleaner heating sources. At the time of the woodstove changeout campaign, the college used No. 6 heating oil as its fuel source.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, No. 6 fuel oil is a residual fuel oil. Residual fuel oil is one of the lower-value petroleum products. It’s a heavy oil used in power plants or industrial boilers.
“Heavy oil is like muck,” Duffy said. “It’s called bunker fuel cause it’s heavy, dirty oil.”
“If we had just burned No. 2 oil, like a residential home, as opposed to No. 6 heating oil, it was going to cost us a million dollars more each year for our heating oil,” Rymes said. “But at the same time we had this idea that we needed to do something.”
Liberty Gas contacted Keene State with an offer for natural gas as a fuel source. Gaunt had recently been hired by the college and was looking for cleaner fuel options.
“Natural gas is, in fact, a fossil fuel. It burns much cleaner than other kinds of fossil fuel, but it’s still a fossil fuel,” Gaunt said. “When I arrived here, I had a clear vision that I wanted to move the campus to be a fossil-free institution.”
Fossil fuel is a non-renewable fuel source that is currently considered the “world’s primary energy source” by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute. The United States Environmental Protection Agency considers fossil fuels to be a major contributor to air pollution.
“We were at a point where we knew we needed to do something better,” Duffy said.
Gaunt worked with Duffy to explore other heating fuel options. Duffy and Gaunt analyzed the college’s energy data and looked for alternative heating fuels. LR-100 had recently been introduced to the market as a cleaner, more sustainable energy source.
“We did a lot of research on the pros and cons, the environmental concerns, the financial implications of these various fuel sources,” Gaunt said. “The LR-100 product kept coming up, clearly a winner every time.”
Duffy and Gaunt made a pitch to college leadership to switch to the cheaper and more environmentally green fuel oil LR-100.
“We put together a really compelling briefing on why we should explore LR-100 more,” Gaunt said.
The college decided to have a test run of LR-100 on boiler 4 over the summer. Lifecycle Renewables is located in Boston, MA and provides the college with LR-100. The college then decided to switch over boiler 2. In 2016, the college had completely switched over to LR-100.
“When you’re trying to push innovative change, you need to engage hands-on, on the ground people who will be doing the work,” Gaunt said, “but you have got to engage and include the decision-makers. Without both sides of that coin, it won’t move forward.”
“When the delivery of No. 6 oil came, sometimes the people around Fiske would complain because it just stank,” Duffy said. “It’s kind of toxic. With this vegetable oil, we could eat it. So when that is delivered, people don’t complain.”
The dining services on campus, Chartwells, has a contract with Lifecycle Renewables for cooking oil removal and grease trap management.
“When you’re in the fossil oil biz, you’re dealing with a source that you don’t really know where it comes from,” Duffy said. “It can come from any one of the major oil producers. It can come from somewhere with an ocean between us and then you’re subject to geopolitical shakeups.”
These geopolitical conflicts can affect the price of oil. The college is locked into a contract for fuel oil, but the price of oil can change. Vegetable oil is collected regionally and nationally and converted to LR-100, therefore the price of LR-100 is more consistent.
“I don’t have to worry about geopolitical shakeups when we’re investing in a recycled product,” Duffy said. “The grease that we produce goes to the same firm. Shortly after the time that we contracted with Lifecycle, Chartwells wanted a different vendor to pick up their grease.”
“The reason I’m so proud of this particular project is because we really did do something innovative and unique,” Gaunt said. “We did it because we were strategically clever and because we backed up our ideas and our vision with really solid data.”
Kelly Regan can be contacted at