Researchers develop biofuel for campus buses
Published: Monday, November 7, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, November 8, 2011 04:11
University researchers have discovered a way to power the school's bus fleet with a form of fuel collected from leftover cooking oil.
Chemical engineering students are developing biodiesel fuel called UDiesel, which is made out of recycled cooking oil and burns cleanly when used in engines. The university's department of transportation services is currently evaluating the effectiveness of the biodiesel in its fleet of buses.
Professor Norman Wagner, chair of the chemical engineering department, said a biodiesel processor enables researchers to create organically derived fuel that can be used to power motor vehicles in a simple process.
"You could do this in your garage," Wagner said. "The hard part is making it clean and economical."
University alumnus James Seferis, who donated the processor during the summer, used it as a start-up tool for his laboratory in Greece but decided to donate the tool to the university for research purposes. He thinks the project will give students and faculty the opportunity to create something beneficial for the community.
Seferis said the processor was designed to burn cooking oil from plants and separate it into two parts. The process produces a concentrated version of the oil that can be burned for fuel.
"You use acid and methanol to pack energy into the processor with the cooking oil which makes biodiesel and glycerin," Seferis said.
Wagner said students developed the concept of UDiesel during a senior design class, in which students develop real engineering systems. One group of students developed a plan to utilize biodiesel in Newark's transportation system last year, and predicted the cost to the city would be equivalent of or less than the current cost of gas.
Diesel, which fuels many motor vehicles, is produced from the oil of petroleum gas, whereas the biodiesel comes from a natural source that would normally be thrown away, Wagner said.
In addition to university buses, biodiesel can also be used in agricultural tractors and groundskeeper vehicles on campus, Wagner said. He currently uses it in his 2006 Jeep.
Tim Conrad, a transit supervisor for the university's bus system said there are nine buses that run throughout the day. Each gallon of diesel gas costs $370 and the buses operate at four miles per gallon.
Senior Matt Wehrman, who is among the undergraduate students who have participated in the UDiesel project worked on the project during the summer.
He believes the project will help spur the continued development of local environmentally friendly initiatives.
"This project could definitely lead to other new ideas for Delaware," Wehrman said.
Senior Ann Wardwell, a UDiesel researcher, said she spends an average of four to six hours a week in Colburn Laboratory running the processor and analyzing data.
"It's nice to get hands-on [experience],' Wardwell said. "Even at an internship, I wouldn't get an experience like this."
Seferis, who helps oversee the project's progress from his office in Greece, thinks environmental change is needed because people can learn and build on this process for the future.
"Rather than building huge refineries, environmental change should happen at the community level," Seferis said. "It provides a more ecological frame of mind."
If restaurants on Main Street donated their used oil, there would be enough to run the buses all year, Wagner said.
"One of my sayings is ‘eat a French fry and save a polar bear,'" he said.