Biodiesel project stalls out

A University program to create biodiesel fuel from recycled dining hall cooking oil is stalling due to budget and space issues, some involved in the project say.

Engineers Without Borders, a student group dedicated to sustainability, received a grant from the University’s Green Fund last year to develop methods to extract biofuel from waste oil. The program was initially successful, running a shuttle bus completely off recycled cooking oil during Commencement 2006. But now, students, faculty and administrators are offering conflicting assessments of the program’s status.

A University program in which dining hall cooking oil is recycled to create biodiesel fuel may soon be ending due to budget and space problems.
RYAN GALISEWSKI
A University program in which dining hall cooking oil is recycled to create biodiesel fuel may soon be ending due to budget and space problems.

Researcher David Johnson, who headed the project, said the effort has stalled because its funding expired at the end of the 2005-2006 school year. Johnson also said the loss of his space at the Sterling Chemistry Lab made it impossible to continue.

“That project is not going on any further,” he said. “We had a grant from the Green Fund, but it expired last year. Nobody has picked up the project, and it stopped last June. I’m willing to continue, but … I lost my space at the Sterling Chemistry Lab.”

But EWB Co-President Betsy Scherzer ’07 said the group plans to continue research using remaining grant money and that space will not be a problem.

“I applied for an extension for the rest of our Green Fund funds, and we have money to spare,” Scherzer said in an e-mail. “There are definitely plans to continue research and turn oil into fuel. We are just in the process of transitioning from the old space into a new one.”

Director of the Office of Sustainability Julie Newman said while EWB is currently encountering difficulties in continuing research, she expects the project will be revitalized in the future.

“I have no doubt that it will come to life again, but there’s no lab for it right now,” she said.

Associate Vice President for Administration Janet Lindner said the cooking oil-derived fuel operated well in test vehicles, but because of the labor intensive process and small quantities produced, the University may use it to power small, off-road vehicles or minor generators instead.

“We use recycled cooking oil from the dining halls to power the shuttle vehicle,” she said. “This experiment complements our use of alternative fuels in the entire shuttle fleet, and we’re always seeking ways to run cleaner and promote a healthier environment.”

The biodiesel project is part of the University’s larger goal of creating a more sustainable campus. Yale is also purchasing processed biodiesel from outside the University to reduce its dependence on petroleum-based fuels.

Currently, all shuttle buses run on an EPA-approved biodiesel and Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel blend. Biodiesel is less harmful to the environment than traditional petroleum diesel because the carbon dioxide released when burning fuel is neutralized by the plants grown to provide it.

Although the amount of biodiesel in the blend varies depending on the weather — biodiesel performs better in warmer temperatures than in the cold — the mix generally consists of 20% biodiesel and 80% ULSD, Lindner said in an e-mail.

Yale is one of the first universities in the country to use that blend, Newman said.

Lindner said the University successfully added filters and catalytic converters to its shuttle fleet last spring.

“[The conversion] was a simple process with excellent results,” she said.

Other upcoming changes to Shuttle Services include planned replacements of current vehicles with hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles and, if ongoing tests are successful, a new GPS system that will allow students to see shuttle bus locations in real time.

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