Alumnus kickstarts use of renewable diesel on campus

Despite the recent growing interest of sustainability in the United States, alumnus Jeremy Ernest Model (‘19, marketing management) is mulling over ways to make the campus more sustainable since his arrival at Cal Poly Pomona as a student in 2016. His first step was to bring renewable diesel to campus. 

As a first-year student, Model noticed the discomfort of walking past the Poly Trolley due to the strong diesel odor fuming out of the exhaust. The Poly Trolley is a food truck that serves a variety of breakfast, lunch, snack and beverage options on campus. It was established in 1980, according the Poly Trolley website. 

“I found out that the Poly Trolley and shuttle buses use propane, natural gas and diesel to power (their engines),” Model said. “I thought about the number of students being exposed to carcinogens (caused by diesel exhaust), and that scared me. We’re being polluted without realizing it and that’s not fair.”

CPP’s renewable diesel distributor, Pinnacle Petroleum, filling up the tanks with renewable diesel. (Courtesy of Monika Kamboures)

To minimize his environmental footprint, Model adopted a vegan diet around three and a half years ago. He is also an advocate for conscious consumerism and enjoys educating himself on the effects of his purchases. 

Having interest and knowledge in environmentalism, he knew that switching to renewable diesel would be a simple, yet effective solution in reducing carbon emissions on campus. The eco-friendly replacement burns cleaner, has lower carbon emission and is sourced from renewable materials — including cooking oil, animal fat and waste.

With that in mind, Model began his research as a student, examining the measures leading sustainability companies had taken to incorporate renewable diesel into their daily operations. 

Taking the initiative, Model presented his proposal to CPP’s Sustainability Coordinator Monika Kamboures, highlighting the benefits of renewable diesel — such as superior performance in comparison to the traditional diesel fuel, odorless exhaust and the drastic reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

“It sounded too good to be true,” Kamboures said. “It sounded promising, but I needed some time to look into it a bit more because I wasn’t familiar with it.” 

After additional research, Kamboures contacted a few companies that were using renewable diesel to receive feedback regarding potential issues for vehicle maintenance and overall performance. She also reached out to the California Air Resources Board, which confirmed that renewable diesel was a viable option for CPP.

Seeing no significant drawback, the proposal was then given to and approved by Mark Miller, the former director of the Facilities Management Services. 

After over three years of planning and coordinating, as of Jan. 29, CPP now uses renewable diesel, eliminating greenhouse gas emission by up to 80%. 

The alternative fuel is used to power various agricultural equipment, diesel-powered vehicles and generators. There have been no reported changes to the performance of the equipment since the adjustment. The cost to purchase renewable diesel does not exceed the amount of money spent on previous fuels. 

However, Kamboures clarified that not all vehicles and equipment have made the switch to renewable diesel. The fuel is stored in above-ground storage tanks, and only the vehicles that fuel from those selected tanks are being powered with renewable diesel. As of now, there are no specific plans to completely switch to renewable diesel on campus, as the progress of the switch needs to be tracked. 

“Being able to deliver a wide variety of biofuel is necessary to be a part of the climate change solution,” Model said. “Anyone can make the switch, and I think CPP proved that by taking the initiative to change as a whole community.” 

Model now works as a renewable products supply project coordinator at Neste, an oil refining and marketing company. According to the Neste website, the company placed third on the Corporate Knights’ Global 100 list of the world’s most sustainable corporations.

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