New school fundraiser helps create green energy

Ever wondered what happens to the oil your fries are cooked in?

In many cases restaurants pay a company to haul it away to be disposed of, but a new partnership between Stokes County School and Green Circle NC will help give that oil new life as fuel for school buses throughout the state and raise money for local education.

Green Circle NC, a biodiesel company founded by Madison native Dean Price, has already partnered in similar programs with 11 other school systems in North Carolina.

Price, who’s work in developing green energy was recently featured in the New York Times bestselling book “The Unwinding,” said his company’s goal is to help create a sustainable, environmentally friendly way to break the country’s dependency on foreign oil while also creating a possible new economic driver for North Carolina.

Under the Green Circle NC’s Biodiesel for Schools program, the company collects used cooking oil from local restaurants and processes that oil in to feedstock to make biodiesel fuel which, in some school systems, is then used to help fuel bus fleets. The company donates 25 cents to the local school district for each gallon of used oil it collects in the county.

Stokes County is not currently planning on using biodiesel in any of its buses, but members of the school board were happy to unanimously approve the fundraising portion of the program last month.

“We just started the program in Stokes County and we already have 16 restaurants signed up,” Price said last week. “We are patiently waiting to hear from Lowes Foods and it is possible that they may come into the program with all of their stores in the state.”

He said many of the local restaurants he had talked to were excited about the new program.

“When I told Salty Bay about it they said it was a no-brainer for them,” said Price. “They would much rather see their oil stay in Stokes County helping the schools than letting it leave the area and going somewhere where it does not do the residents much good.”

Price said his company is currently distributing oil collection containers to the restaurants that have signed on to the program, noting that he will likely be visiting the county several times each month to collect the used oil.

“We don’t want this to cost the restaurants anything,” he added. “If they are already getting paid for their oil by another company, then we want to continue to pay them.”

He said all of the collected oil is transported to bio-refinery at the Bio Energy Research Initiative in Oxford, which can create 500 gallons of bio-diesel in about eight hours.

“We would like to have field trips for students to come to the facility to see how it is made and demystify the whole process,” he said. “A lot of people don’t like fracking and this is an environmentally friendly way of producing fuel. This is economic development and an answer to fracking.”

He said that eventually he would like to see the state become a major producer of canola seed, which is used to make most cooking oil.

“We are trying to get local farmers to grow canola and take that to make low grade fuel oil,” said Price. “Then you have a blueprint for a new food industry that is agriculturally based and renewable and environmentally friendly. It would be an insurance policy against future oil price spikes.

“It is obvious the status quo is not working,” he added. “We need to do a few things differently to create jobs and economic development locally. Stokes County is blessed with a lot of farm land. We need to start looking at how we can start creating jobs by using our resources locally. That is what this whole program is about.”

Stokes County restaurants currently signed up to participate int he program include:Berry Patch, Burger King, Danbury General Store, Hemlock Golf Coarse, EJ’s Restaurant, Hillbilly Hideaway, Main St Diner, Milano’s Pizza, Pinto’s Café, Red Top Café, The Farmhouse Cafe, The Ridge, Trails End Grill, US Hibachi, China House, El Cabo, Mi Pueblo, Salty Bay Seafood, and Town & Country. Price said other restaurants are still considering signing up.

Participating restaurants will be displaying a front door sticker about the program.

“We are asking county stakeholders to look for the sticker when they go out to eat, and to patronize the restaurants that support the local schools,” he said.

Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.

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