Guests downing chicken nuggets and french fries at Disneyland’s Tomorrowland Terrace are no longer just fueling themselves for a day of walking the park and riding the Matterhorn. These days, they’re also helping fuel the Disney trains.
On Wednesday, the five Disneyland Railroad trains that circle a one-mile perimeter of the park began running on cleaner burning biodiesel made with oil that comes from the resort’s restaurants and hotels.
Park officials had tried a soybean-based biodiesel starting in 2007, but had to give up on that in November 2008 because of problems storing it underground.
So they regrouped while the trains went back to regular diesel fuel, then came up with the idea of recycling discarded cooking oil and turning into biodiesel for the trains.
“The improvement here is that it’s no longer using food for fuel. There are no soybeans grown in the Midwest to fuel our trains, just cooking oil that we’re already generating,” said Frank Dela Vara, Disney’s director of environmental affairs.
Barrels of discarded oil – which resembles maple syrup – are shipped to the Coachella Valley, mixed with a small portion of diesel fuel, then shipped back to Disneyland.
Eventually, the biodiesel also will propel the Mark Twain paddlewheel steamboat, some cleaning equipment and light towers throughout the park.
The effort is part of Disneyland Resort’s ongoing effort to reuse and recycle materials that otherwise would clutter landfills or drain to the ocean. Last year, the company won an environmental award for recycling 7.6 million bottles and cans.
In December, all 16 parking trams that carry guests from distant lots to the front gates, began running solely on compressed natural gas instead of diesel. That move alone eliminates about 50,000 gallons of diesel that the trams used to burn through each year, said Disney spokeswoman Suzi Brown.
The Disney Railroad, ridden by an estimated 6.6 million visitors annually, uses about 200,000 gallons of fuel each year. Officials expect the resort will generate enough cooking oil to generate about half the necessary fuel.
More fries, more fuel. The rest must be trucked in from other sources.
Disney executive chef Chris Justesen said he hopes that’ll encourage guests to eat up. Standing next to a row of more than a dozen separate frying trays for chicken nuggets, french toast and fries, he said he’s encouraged knowing all the used oil will be reused inside the park.
“I love the idea,” he said. “And maybe it’ll make more guests hungry for our fries.”
The park expects a cost savings. Although as of this week, the cost for regular diesel – $1.65 a gallon – was less than the biodiesel – $1.90 – officials said the cost of biodiesel is much less volatile and Disney sees some savings because it is providing much of the raw product to the supplier.
The conversion to 100 percent biodiesel will take a few weeks, Dela Vara said.
After the entire regular diesel burns off and the trains run solely on biodiesel, they will emanate an odor similar to french fries, Dela Vara said.
Riding the trains on Wednesday afternoon, guests were unaware that anything had changed. Only minor tweaks to the engine were required and those had already been completed after the 2007 conversion to soybean-based fuel.
The trains looked the same. They were pumped with fuel early Wednesday morning, so even the train’s conductors said they were unaware of the switch.
“When we went to soybeans the last time, there were actually some people that said they missed the smell of diesel; it brought back memories of them coming to the park as kids,” he said.
But, he added, “We’re confident kids of today will make new memories – associated with a much cleaner smell.”