Upcycled Veggie Oil Can Light Your Camp Stove

Maine startup Foothill Fuels has created an eco-friendly alternative for backcountry cooks.

Foothill Fuels is an eco-friendly alternative to petroleum-based white gas
Foothill Fuels is an eco-friendly alternative to petroleum-based white gas.
By Will Grunewald
Photographed by Cait Bourgault

Brian Kennedy loves being in the backcountry — hiking in summer, snowboarding in winter — and it bothered him that the usual options for camp-stove fuel were derived from fossil fuels. After he graduated from Bates, in 2014, he embarked on a yearlong Watson travel and research fellowship, studying the worldwide seaweed economy. “I got really into the renewable-fuels potential of seaweed byproducts,” he says, “and searching through the literature, I essentially stumbled on this other idea.” That idea was to turn used vegetable oil, collected from commercial kitchens, into cooking fuel. Back in Maine, he connected with chemical engineer Scott Eaton, and they started Foothill Fuels in 2016, with help from Maine Technology Institute startup grants. They tested their product, which works with any stove that burns conventional white gas, in both the lab and the field. From Katahdin to Utah’s arid Castle Valley to Oregon’s glacier-capped Mount Hood, it burned as well or better than white gas. And the biggest perk for eco-minded outdoorsy types: a 50 percent smaller greenhouse-gas footprint.

After its soft launch at select shops, including Bar Harbor’s Alpenglow Adventure Sports, retail closures delayed Foothill Fuel‘s planned nationwide release in June.