College students making strides in biofuel use

November 2, 2009 8:17:28 AM PST
The same trucks that transport our food across the country could be using byproducts of what they haul for fuel. There may be a 'green' benefit to that hamburger and fries you might've had for lunch. The oil they were cooked in could be reused for fuel.

"We take all of this stuff out," said Zach Waickman, bio-deisel lab manager, Loyola University Chicago.

The "stuff" is breading and chunks of food left in cooking oil after it's been used.

"We strain those out, and then we heat up the oil to help separate any water that might be there. This gives us a nice, clean oil that we're then able to mix with our chemicals," Waickman said.

Waickman is describing the first steps in making bio-diesel fuel, a clean fuel that is made from used vegetable oil. The project started at Loyola University Chicago as part of a class called, "Solutions to Environmental Problems" or STEP.

"The idea is to have students come to the table from lots of different disciplines to talk about problems we would like to solve. The first problem that students wanted to tackle was the emissions of carbon dioxide that we put out on our campus," said Nancy Tuchman of Loyola's Center for Urban Environmental Research Policy.

Bio-diesel seemed the perfect answer. It's a conversion of waste into energy. It can be used in any vehicle that takes traditional deisel with no need to modify the engine. Students use it to fill up school's mobile outreach van. It also cuts down on pollution.

"That black plume of smoke that you usually see coming out of a diesel engine is essentially eliminated when you're using bio-diesel," Waickman said.

And just so nothing goes to waste, lab technicians are now using the glycerin left over from their bio-diesel production, to make "bio-soap." They're planning to sell it in the campus bookstore beginning this holiday season.

Loyola University students load their mobile outreach van with a smaller version of the lab and take it to area high schools, allowing them to give young people hands-on lessons in renewable energy.

For more details about the program, go to http://www.luc.edu/biodiesel/


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