Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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The Grease Project

$3000 IDEAS Award Sponsored by the COOP

The Grease Project

Competition Year: 2010

One man's waste becomes another man's fuel

Energy and Environment Housing and Transportation


Global Challenge Cooking

Quick Links

Our Pitch

Scavenging is an activity of last resort to starvation. In Brazil it is a way of life for an estimated 500,000 people. Catadores (wastepickers) recently responded to the Brazilian government’s newly adopted regulations to limit the environmental damage caused by improper disposal of waste vegetable oil (WVO) by collecting oil. Green Grease Capivara was created to find an economical use for it. Together with a network of partners, our team designed an inexpensive, low-tech conversion method that allows diesel vehicles to run on WVO and married the technology with training workshops and a novel dissemination plan.

Ultimately Green Grease Capivara will teach catadores in nine Brazilian cities to re-use WVO as fuel. By nearly eliminating the cost of diesel, the operating costs of wastepicker cooperatives will be reduced by an estimated 20%. Resulting savings will go directly into the pockets of the catadores, effectively boosting the livelihood of nearly 10,000 people.


Reduce operational costs and increase income of wastepickers in Sao Paulo, while reducing the negative environmental impact of improper disposal of waste vegetable oil

Who We Are


Libby McDonald, Senior advisor with MIT’s Community Innovator’s Lab

Biographies: Samantha Fox graduated from MIT in June 2010 with a Bachelor's degree in environmental engineering and a minor in environmental public policy. Sam acts as group organizer, arranging meetings and delegating tasks, while also participating in the planning of the Grease Project. Sam is responsible for investigating the environmental impact of running vehicles on used vegetable oil. Sam has had international development experience with the PSC.

Sara Barnowski graduated in June with a Bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering and a minor in environmental public policy. Since 2008 Sara has worked with MIT’s student project for biofuel production and use. Sara has had international development experience in Peru as part of a D-Lab dissemination course. Her role in the Grease Project is to provide logistic, technical, and planning assistance with respect to adapting the conversion of diesel engines based on the Sao Paulo wastepickers’ particular needs and environment.

Hossam EL-Asrag holds a B.Sc and Master’s degree in Aerospace Engineering from Cairo University in Egypt and a PhD in Aerospace Engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology. Since then, Hossam has been working in the area of combustion modeling and simulation as a post-doctoral associate at Stanford and currently at MIT. He contributes to planning and logistics for the Grease Project with respect to energy conversion and vehicle conversion system design. He will also work on integrating an international component of our project so that this model might be applied to underprivileged groups in other cities around the world.

Ana Luisa Santos received an SM degree from the MIT Media Lab in 2009, and previously MSc and BEng degrees in Electrical Engineering from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She has worked with International Development and appropriate technologies span by ]leading an MIT D-Lab field study to rural Brazil, to advising IT and energy projects in rural areas as a Steering Committee member for the IEEE Humanitarian Technology Challenge. She is currently a Technical Program manager for MIT NextLab, building a smartphone logistics platform focused on BoP customers. She will contribute to the Grease Project by establishing the social, technological and economic implications of incorporating the collection and sale of waste vegetable oil into the catadores’ communities.

Angela Hojnacki is a junior at MIT, studying Mechanical Engineering and Urban Studies and Planning, with focuses in energy and environmental issues. She currently serves as president of Biodiesel@MIT this year and gained experience with the production of biofeuels. Her role in Grease Project is to provide logistic, technical, and planning assistance with respect to adapting engine conversions to meet the needs and environment of the Sao Paulo wastepicking communities.

Name: Ana Bonomi Email: Ana Bonomi is a Visiting Student at MIT working with CoLab (Community Innovators Lab). Ana is supporting the Lab’s recycling projects in Brazil, with a particular focus on income generation potential through re-use of waste vegetable oil. Ana is currently majoring in Economics with a concentration on the environment and energy at Fundação Getúlio Vargas - Sao Paulo, one of the top business schools in Brazil. Having worked with the recycling cooperatives in Sao Paulo since 2007, Ana contributes to the project with her knowledge of the catadores’ specific economic, political and social situation.

Our Community Partner

Partner Name

Rede CataSampa


Sao Paulo


Rede CataSampa is the local chapter of the National Movement of Catadores ( MNCR), composed of 15 cooperatives in São Paulo. Its goal is to strengthen and enhance practice of solidarity economics through the implementation of a networks of cooperatives in the State of São Paulo.


  • Service Location
    Sao Paulo, Brazil
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Comments and Support

  • Genius Team! Congratulation Angela Hojnacki

    Posted by T. Hoang Trong on Wed, Feb 22nd 2012, 11:33 Report Abuse

  • u guys r brilliant!! keep up ur wonderful job!! cant wait 2 c how it will b implemented in Timor Leste, as well!!

    Posted by i. rahmatanty on Sun, Nov 7th 2010, 20:03 Report Abuse

  • Are you guys looking for help? I'd be interested, let me know what you need... Teresa

    Posted by Teresa Chahine on Fri, Nov 5th 2010, 10:38 Report Abuse

  • Waste vegetable oil to solve an energy problem, genius! Keep it up.

    Posted by E. Kwan on Tue, Apr 27th 2010, 15:50 Report Abuse

  • This is amazing!! What is the volumen need it to reach break point? Congrats!! Martha

    Posted by Martha Isabel Bonilla on Mon, Apr 19th 2010, 15:39 Report Abuse

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