What do you get when you cross cooking oil, methanol, and a lot of hard work and ingenuity? The University of Rochester’s Biodiesel Bus Program, of course! You can recognize the bus by its sleek, green sides, but if you look a little harder, you can see the continued effort it takes to make this program run smoothly.
If we’re starting from scratch, biodiesel starts as used cooking oil, donated to the project by Dining Services. It is combined with methanol, provided by the University’s Hazardous Waste Department. This creates a chemical reaction that allows the mixture to be used as fuel. The mixture is then added to conventional diesel fuel, for use in standard diesel engines. The University uses B20, a mix with 20% biodiesel in its bus, as this usually yields the best fuel economy for standard diesel engines.
The project was initiated by four students, in the Fall of 2006, as a business plan proposal for the Charles and Janet Forbes Entrepreneurial Competition, where it placed second. One of those students was Eric Weissmann (‘10), former President of the Students’ Association at the University. He provided the necessary support to gain SA recognition of the UR Biodiesel Committee, as a subset of the group, Engineers for a Sustainable World. This recognition gives the committee the continued funding and support it requires. Other funding and support has come from the Advantage Federal Credit Union, AEY and P&J construction companies, and Alliance Door & Hardware.
The program, which started as a partnership between students and University Facilities, is now run solely by the students. Though the biodiesel lab is still located in an outbuilding supported by Facilities, its management and operations are completely student-run. Facilities Manager, Eris Oleksyn, once the University’s point-person for the project, has now moved into a purely advisory role. The program is now in the capable hands of a couple of students and their volunteers: Ellen Sadri, the Committee Chairperson and Mathias Ferber, the Lab Manager.
The lab currently produces one batch of 25-40 gallons of biodiesel, every week and a half. This is more biodiesel than the bus requires, so about 5-10 gallons of it is given to construction companies, AEY and P&J, to help fuel their construction equipment.
While the project may have started as a small idea, it has grown into a big, sustainable success. Continued student support comes in the form of volunteers, who are eligible to receive course credit for their work in the biodiesel lab.
The Committee Chairperson, Ellen Sadri, explains how the project has altered her view of students’ abilities make sustainable changes, “It is comforting to know that students like me can make our dreams a reality, and be able to contribute to the environment.” Sadri adds, “Not to mention, biodiesel gives us an excuse to have a second helping of French fries!” Order up!
For more information on the biodiesel project, please contact Ellen Sadri at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- National Biodiesel Conference Invests in ‘Next Generation’ Scientists (prnewswire.com)
- The green machine: Algae clean wastewater, convert to biodiesel (jflahiff.wordpress.com)