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Leftover Grease Powers University Bus

Leftover Grease Powers University Bus

By Dave Tyler, Gas 2.0

At most college dining halls, they’ll fry just about anything. Wings, mozzarella sticks, fries and onion rings. Old shoe leather (wait, maybe that’s just a memory of how things tasted at my college dining hall.) All that frying leaves a lot of leftover grease and oil.

At the University of Rochester, a group of students used that oil as the foundation for a business plan that has produced both a biodiesel powered shuttle bus and a new building for biofuel experimentation. The project will hit a milestone on Earth Day, when university President Joel Seligman will help send the shuttle bus off on its first trips around campus, including a tour of the new building.

URBiodiesel had its start when three students, David Borrelli, Dan Fink, and Eric Weissmann, wanted to enter a business plan contest on campus and thought about the possibilities of converting dining hall grease to biodiesel. Their plan finished second in the contest and and that finish gave the trio the desire to pursue it further.

The students worked to find the right partners on campus, Weissmann said in an interview, and got help from across the university. A faculty advisor, Ben Ebenhack, let the team run experiments in his lab and gave other students course credit for helping out. The food service staff agreed to donate the grease. The transportation department donated the bus. And perhaps most importantly, the school’s facilities department agreed to help construct a building for converting the grease to fuel and conduct research.

“This is really the ultimate in collaboration,” Weissmann said. “And even in the worst case if the URbiodiesel doesn’t carry on, the school winds up with a new building to use for sustainability research.”

Biodiesel Blends and Finding the Fry Grease
The bus, with a 50 gallon tank, will run on a B-20 blend of biodiesel, or 80 percent diesel and 20 percent biodiesel. The team is already thinking about ways to expand the program, if the first buses service goes well.  That could include producing different blends or adding new buses. Surprisingly though, they’re already talking to area restaurants about using their grease to help build supplies.

“People think of dining hall food as greasy, but there really is only so much of it to go around,” Weissmann said. There are also concerns about how biodiesel blends will hold up in Rochester’s cold winters. But the shuttle bus will provide valuable information in that regard, Weissmann said. The team has gotten preliminary interest about possibly making fuel from coffee grounds as well.

Sponsorships are helping to pay the costs, though URBiodiesel and the school aren’t revealing the total costs of the project. You can find out more on the URBiodiesel Web site, and follow developments on the team’s blog.

With the use of fryer grease gaining steam around the country, Weissmann said he’s optimistic the program will live on after the team graduates. Several other universities are looking at ways to use their dining hall oil as fuel.

“This is a stressful, exhausting thrill, but to see a university of this size jump on the bandwagon and help out from every angle it’s a pretty exciting thing for all three of us,” he said.

Green Options Media is a network of environmentally-focused blogs providing users with the information needed to make sustainable choices. Written by experienced professionals, Green Options Media’s blogs engage visitors with authoritative content, compelling discussions, and actionable advice. We invite anyone with questions, or simply curiosity, to add their voices to the community, and share their approaches to achieving abundance.

Photo and image credits: URBiodiesel.

Read more: College Life, Do Good, Life, News & Issues, Reduce, Recycle & Reuse, Transportation, ,

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10:11PM PDT on Mar 23, 2010

Great story.

11:44PM PST on Dec 20, 2009

This is a very interesting article. Its great to hear that people are really trying to make a difference. There is something else we can all do that is fairly easy. A new company called Green Earth Technologies ( has created a “green” biodegradable motor oil. It is SM certified by the API and should be available on store shelves in June 2009. Pass this along, it’s a no-brainer. Just switch motor oil brands.
ginko biloba

1:12PM PST on Nov 26, 2009

Great idea!

8:34AM PDT on May 5, 2009

Great idea!

2:07AM PDT on Apr 27, 2009

haha this is so cool! those students must be very smart.

12:51AM PDT on Apr 22, 2009

A great idea!

7:45AM PDT on Apr 21, 2009

Awesome! For another cool school that been going the grease route for several years, have a look at NOLS: The NOLS veggie bus has just been retired after billions :0 of miles on the road consuming millions :D of gallons of grease.

7:40AM PDT on Apr 21, 2009

I think that is a wonderful idea because our Colleges and Universities are having so many financial problems and it will help our world.

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