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.
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Photo and image credits: URBiodiesel.