The biodiesel – which students make by recycling used cooking oil – emits far fewer emissions than conventional fuels, is completely biodegradable and can be used in the campus fleet’s compression-ignition diesel vehicles with little or no modifications.
The project, dubbed UDiesel by undergrads, was inspired by the donation of a biodiesel processor last spring by James Seferis, a chemical engineering alum who received a doctorate from the university in 1977.
The donated processor is capable of recycling 130 to 150 gallons of used cooking oil per batch to produce 100 gallons of biodiesel, according to the article. Students currently process one partial batch per week, producing 42 gallons of fuel and 11 gallons of glycerin – a byproduct commonly used in agriculture and pharmaceuticals.
So how does it work? Led by chemical engineering professor Antony Beris, students render fuel through a method called “transeterification” – which is basically a huge word for the process of separating the sticky glycerin byproduct from vegetable oil. Once the oil is separated, it can then be used to directly replace diesel in university buses.
The amount of biodiesel produced only partially powers school transportation, but undergrads said using cooking oil fuel decreases the need for conventional diesel, saving the university money and shrinking its carbon footprint.
“Right now, we can produce biodiesel from recycled cooking oil with minimal loss or cost,” senior Matthew Wehrman told UDaily. “Each gallon of biodiesel used means one less gallon of diesel fuel burned, which means fewer gallons of imported oil.”
Seferis, who donated the system, said he hopes the new processor will lead to innovations in fuel and energy from the university.