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Nov 06
From Fries to Fuel

Indianapolis Zoo's Conservation Endeavors Turn to Biofuel Plans

There's something new at the Indianapolis Zoo's cafés … but you won't find it on the menu.

In partnership with Cummins Inc., the Zoo recently took on a biofuel initiative, working to advance its mission of conservation, while implementing new, innovative ways to fuel some of the vehicles throughout grounds.


By collecting used vegetable oil from the fryers in the Zoo's Café on the Commons, staff members are now able to reclaim what would be discarded and instead process the material in a fueling station. This machinery breaks down the oils into ester, an organic compound, and glycerin. The ester is then mixed with fuel to create biodiesel.

So next time you decide to enjoy a few French fries at the Zoo, you're becoming a part of a much bigger picture.

"The Zoo's mission is to empower our guests to make a difference for wildlife. Our operations team embraces that ideal in our work practices and looks for ways in which we can be more efficient in our use of resources as well as raise awareness. Utilizing biofuel from materials that would otherwise be thrown away helps us advance that mission," said Norah Fletchall, the Zoo's Supervising VP of Operations.

Among the fleet are Kubotas and a John Deere tractor that the Zoo's team are beginning to power using a mixture of both biofuel and regular diesel. This mixture will ensure the vehicle continues to run smoothly as a higher percentage of biofuel is utilized in the future.

"As we replace existing vehicles and systems that currently cannot operate using a biofuel mixture, we will be able to more effectively evaluate and perhaps even use the biofuel we produce," Fletchall said. "What's so great about this initial project is Cummins' assistance in properly sizing our system so we could produce small batches now with the capacity to grow larger."

While the first test batch of biodiesel took several days to produce, with practice, 32 gallons of fuel can be created over two-day time spans. This means the Zoo will have the potential to produce more than 500 gallons each year.

"One of the main reasons we partnered with the Indianapolis Zoo is the broad reach that the Zoo has with, one, its conservation message, and two, all of the visitors that can come here on an annual basis," said Cummin's Joe Sawin. "So it's a great opportunity to teach a lot of people about the benefits of biodiesel."

Not only is this initiative reusing material that would otherwise go to waste, biodiesel also produces fewer emissions than traditional petroleum-based fuel, helping the Zoo continue to reduce its carbon footprint.

"We see the utilization of biofuel in our vehicles as a demonstration project. It lays a foundation which we can build upon," Fletchall said.

Want to take a closer look? You can see the biofuel processing station along the tracks of the Zoo's White River Junction train. Plus, check out other ways the Zoo is going green here.

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