Something is cooking up in Lane’s Science Department, and it’s the ideas of half a dozen members of the Green Chemistry Club involved in a hands-on biodiesel project.
The club members want to create an educational space where students interested in green chemistry and alternative fuels will be able to gain experience in setting up and producing biodiesel fuel. The club’s faculty adviser, John Thompson, said he expects the biodiesel project to be up and running within the year.
Biodiesel is a fuel that is produced from vegetable oils, fats or recycled cooking grease, making it biodegradable. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, biodiesel is safe and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
There are some final steps the club needs to accomplish before they can actually begin building an educational environment that meets safety regulation. The club must gain approval from Lane Facilities Management and Planning for the finances to complete the project and permits for new construction. Safety codes need to be set in place as well.
To meet regulations, the club must install running water, safety sinks, safety showers, an eyewash station and proper drainage systems to dispose of chemicals.
Several members of the club said they hoped they could someday distribute the fuel. A cost for the fuel has not been determined; any proceeds would go to recovering operating costs.
“I think it would be great if students could fill their tank with fuel made by other students, and we are going to do what we can to move toward that admittedly unlikely dream,” club treasurer Aaron Fredrickson said.
Facilities Management and Planning is responsible for assessing safety regulations.
“I’m personally very supportive of the efforts of the club, but speaking on behalf of the facilities, we won’t be able to assess code and safety requirements until we receive additional details about the layout and operation of the plant from the club,” Facilities Director Russell Pierson wrote in an email.
The club has not had a stable location for many years. The current location for the biodiesel plant is behind Building 10 in what are called test cells. The cells were once used to test aircraft engines.
“Several years ago, we made biodiesel here and then we moved to another location on campus. So we have done it before, but now we’re in a new place and we are getting the space worked out so that we can get started,” Thompson said.
Members of the club are currently submitting their plumbing and wastewater plans to the facilities committee, which will then determine the cost.
“It seems that there are people that don’t quite understand the level of accomplishment that the club has actually achieved. It seems like a lot of people assume that we haven’t had any difficulties setting up the biodiesel project. There has actually been a lot in our way. There is an uneven distribution of knowledge about where we stand as a club,” Green Chemistry Club President Chris Bristow said.
Fredrickson remains aware that when trying to fund a science project, there are a lot of committees involved that must submit their approval. He said that is something that a typical science class won’t prepare students for.
“On the upside, this is good training for us,” Fredrickson said.
In the meantime, the club continues to receive waste oil from Food and Beverage Manager Mike O’Neal. The club filters the oil to prepare it for processing.
“The way I’m starting to see it now, we are the group of students making this possible for the future. Somebody has to go through all the work of making this happen,” Bristow said.