Green Chemistry Club seeks to recycle used kitchen oil

Budding scientists work around financial and bureaucratic concerns

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The Green Chemistry Club has been attempting to produce biodiesel on campus. The goal is to create fuel from the used fryer oil on campus. This way, waste from the cafeteria and culinary department can be used for some of the college’s energy needs.

John Thompson, faculty advisor for the club, has been involved with the project for many years.

“Over a decade ago, we actually used a space on campus for a short while and then we realized with … the help of the fire marshal that it probably didn’t meet the safety standards.”

Club member Aaron Fredrickson, says they attempted to use sites on campus as the location for biodiesel synthesis.

Located to the east of Building 12, the sites, or test cells, were previously used for testing aircraft mechanics. When the Green Chemistry Club chose this location, the cells were filled with garbage and recycling.

“We were trying to get one of the test cells cleared out for like a year, and finally it got cleared out,” Fredrickson said. Only to find out that, “[the college] couldn’t build out the space like we thought they could.”

There is a lot of uncertainty about how quickly the campus’ bureaucracy can implement the project. Fredrickson said that when the club was trying to use the test cells, Facilities Management and Planning does not have a permanent director. The school can’t make a decision on the site until that position is filled.

Until the club has access to the proper facilities and safety equipment required for synthesizing large batches, Thompson says they are looking into implementing a continuous flow reaction. Instead of working with 40 or 50 gallons of solution, this approach works will very small amounts of solution being fed through a thin pipe.

“If you run it 24 hours a day for several days, you’ll make the same amount [of product] as you would in a week with the other set up,” Thompson said.

Demaree Lind, a member of the club, thinks that despite the difficulties of finding a permanent home for biodiesel synthesis, Thompson’s proposed method will allow the club to make significant progress while waiting for funding.

It may take several more years to fund and build a permanent home for biodiesel production on campus, but the Green Chemistry Club is intent on doing as much as possible. According to Thompson, the chances seem high of starting biodiesel synthesis through a continuous flow reaction within the academic year.

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