Waste oil to provide energy

The soybean oil used to make the dining halls’ hash browns at brunch Sunday will also soon be used to power diesel engines on campus.

Last week, Yale Recycling began collecting waste oil from the University’s dining halls to supply the Yale Biofuels Project, an effort to create a more eco-friendly campus by running some University vehicles on vegetable oil. A new processor at Sterling Chemistry Laboratory will convert the oil into usable energy, which a student-run group, Engineers Without Borders, plans to distribute around the University.

The group plans to supply one of the Yale shuttles buses and the grounds-maintenance machines and possibly even replace the recycling truck itself with a diesel-burning truck that would utilize the biodiesel it is helping to make, David Johnson, instructor of the SCL Student Machine Shop, said.

With the guidance of Johnson, Director of Undergraduate Studies for Environmental Engineering Bill Mitch, the engineering faculty and the chemistry department, EWB — with support from the University’s Green Fund — researched biodiesel and its conversion from waste oil. The group already supplies the Yale Bethany Observatory with biodiesel for its heating, Scherzer said.

EWB found that Yale produces an estimated 5,000 to 8,000 gallons of waste oil per year, EWB Co-President Betsy Scherzer ’07 said.

The Biofuels Project has its roots in a truck Giovanni Zinn ’05 converted to run on straight vegetable during summer 2004. At the beginning of last year, Zinn decided to start a wider project with EWB to make vehicles on campus more environmentally friendly.

“It is a chance to do something good for Yale environmentally while reusing a waste stream with an economic benefit as well,” Zinn said. “The only way we are going to become environmentally friendly is if it makes economic sense.”

Currently, the project also attempts to look beyond its biodiesel processor and the engineering aspect to other eco-friendly fuel initiatives. Johnson said he plans to research home heating emissions and the possible applications of biodiesel, since it is identical to home heating oil. The emissions from home heating oil have an especially large impact on the environment of the Northeastern United States, he said.

EWB is also investigating the potential use of algae as a source of oil and comparing the emission levels of biodiesel to those of regular fossil-fuel-derived diesel, Scherzer said.

Eventually the group would like the project to become institutionalized at the University and become part of Yale Facilities take over the project, Scherzer said.

While Zinn also hopes the project will become institutionalized, he said it has already shown the the positive results the University and students can achieve.

“One of the things I really wanted to do,” Zinn said, “was to bring together the students, the faculty and people who work behind the scenes in the University to work collaboratively and tackle a problem together rather than be handed a problem by a professor.”

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