WKU Biodiesel Project: Empowering Students — Changing the World

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has been converting campus dining used cooking oil into fuel at the WKU Ag farm for over four years. The biodiesel is used to run tractors, reducing farm fuel costs and carbon emissions.  This collaboration, between the Departments of Agriculture and Engineering, engages students in real-life problem solving – the facility was designed, built, and is being run by students in the Mechanical Engineering program. In fact, every WKU student who has eaten fried food on campus has contributed to the success of the program, and all students benefit when we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

Having produced more than 5000 gallons of biodiesel now, WKUBiodiesel is well-experienced and ready to take this project beyond the farm and onto the WKU campus. Our next big goal is to work with WKU Transportation to run campus buses on WKU Biodiesel!

SpiritFunding support can help us realize this goal. Funds are needed to (1) make facilities improvements that will allow us to more efficiently produce the additional biodiesel for WKU buses  (making more fuel using less student time), (2) get the fuel to WKU Transportation, and (3) be able to do more on-site testing of the fuel.

What are we going to do with the money we receive?  A team of WKU ME seniors will continue making biodiesel during the fall for the Ag farm tractors and getting the WKUBiodiesel facility shutdown during the winter break.  In the spring 2018 semester, another team of WKU Engineering seniors will begin to research the needs of the project, propose solutions, implement their facilities changes, and perform testing.  This will be done using the SpiritFunding money, and will be completed towards the end of the spring and into the summer.  Our goal is that biodiesel will be used on WKU buses by then!

How exactly does all of this work?  The biodiesel process starts when you eat some fried food at WKU Food Services.  For WKUBiodiesel it starts at the loading docks of DSU and Garrett:

WKU ME Students helping collect used cooking oil for the biodiesel facility

Before it can be made into biodiesel, the used cooking oil is heated and dried at the WKU Biodiesel facility:

The used cooking oil heating and drying system at WKUBiodiesel

To convert vegetable oil into biodiesel (this is called transesterification!!), methanol and potassium hydroxide (lye) are mixed to form methoxide:

Safely mixing methoxide

Then four hours of heat and mixing of the cooking oil and methoxide will create biodiesel:

The biodiesel reactor vessel, pumps, and heat exchanger

Glycerine is a byproduct of the mixing process.  It is separated out:

Glycerin vessel in front of reactor

Finally, the biodiesel in the reactor needs to be washed, dried, filtered and tested before it is sent to the BIG RED TANK, ready to be used as fuel:

Quality testing of the biodiesel products

Biodiesel ready for use

The WKU Biodiesel project is educational experience at it’s best: real-life problem solving with applications that will carry our graduates into future successes, improving the quality of life of on our farm and in our community. One gallon of traditional hydrocarbon (the methanol) can be converted into nearly four gallons of biodiesel — making it unnecessary to burn about four and a half gallons of traditional diesel fuel.  Your support for this project will provide benefits for present students as well as future generations of Hilltoppers.

Wow, you’re still reading?  You must be interested in our project!!  One last supporter of WKUBiodiesel is our neighbors on the WKU Ag Farm.  Please help us to create a sustainable energy future at WKU for everyone involved.

What is Biodiesel, and why does WKU care?

Biodiesel is a cleaner-burning, renewable, replacement fuel made for diesel engines. Is is not only “greener” than petroleum-based diesel, biodiesel is non-toxic and biodegradable. Right now WKUBiodiesel converts WKU Food Services used vegetable oil into biodiesel for WKU Agriculture Department vehicles, thus making use of a waste product, reducing diesel consumption (and costs), all the while making WKU a more environmentally friendly university.

What is the formula to make Biodiesel?

Approximately four gallons of used cooking oil is mixed with one gallon of methanol and some potassium hydroxide (lye, or KOH).  The amount of chemical depends on the composition of the cooking oil that is tested before mixing.  This will be heated and mixed, producing about four gallons of biodiesel and one gallon of glycerin.

Do you have to modify your diesel vehicle to use Biodiesel?

Unlike gasoline engines that can burn ethanol (biofuel made from corn) after the engine has been modified, it is not necessary to modify a diesel engine to use Biodiesel.  Some care needs to be taken when beginning to use biodiesel, particularly changing fuel filters more often at first, but after biodiesel has been used in an engine for a while this ceases.  Biodiesel has less energy per gallon than traditional diesel, so vehicle mpg decreases by about 10%.

Spread the word!

  • Julie Ellis "It'll smell like french fries ... all over campus!"
  • Cheryl Stevens "Good luck with this project! I'm happy to support this."
  • Ryan simpson "GLAD TO SEE THIS PROJECT STILL GOING. GOOD LUCK!"
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