Part of the grounds crew in their lawnmowers, mostly run with biodiesel fuel.

On each of Luther's diesel fleet vehicles, there is a new decal that states that biodiesel transforms "Refuse into Resource." This phrase sums up the purpose of our biodiesel program. Now, instead of sending our cafeteria fryer oil off as a waste product, Luther staff member Kevin Ellingson brings it down to our biodiesel processor and can make up to an 80 gallon batch per day. This fuel gets mixed 50/50 with regular diesel in all the diesel vehicles in the fleet—mostly lawn mowers and other maintenance vehicles.

Year Gallons Produced Gallons Used
2011 1520 1299
2010 1040 1302
2009 1160 912
2008 1040 484
2007 720 N/A

What is biodiesel?

Biodiesel is an alternative fuel made from new or used vegetable oil. The oil can originate from many plant sources such as corn, soybeans, rapeseed, palm oil, and coconut oil. The main reaction used to produce biodiesel is a transesterification that involves mixing oil, alcohol and a catalyst (usually lye) in approximate ratios of 80%, 20%, and 0.35% respectively. Essentially, it is taking a triglyceride (veggie oil) and making it into a methyl/ethyl ester (biodiesel).

History of Luther Biodiesel

In the summer of 2003, we initiated a research project funded by NCUR Lancy comparing crop-based energy technologies to determine if any crops offer a good alternative energy source for the future. However, further research revealed that any biofuel production from virgin oils still has significant environmental impacts, such as soil erosion, loss of diverse ecosystems, and pollution of water systems due to crop production with mainstream agricultural practices.

One way to address these concerns is to create biodiesel from used vegetable oil. We then began investigating the possibilities for integrating such an alternative fuel into Luther's campus vehicles. After years of research and small-scale biodiesel production, in 2007 Luther bought an Ester Machine, which converts waste vegetable oil into biodiesel, a fuel that can be used like regular diesel fuel. We now have successfully created biodiesel using waste vegetable oil from the Luther cafeteria, Oneota Coffee Shop, and Marty's Cyber Café. This fuel has successfully powered vehicles used by Facilities Management and the grounds crew.


  • 80% reduction in carbon dioxide combustion
  • contains no sulfur emissions and contains 11% oxygen by weight (diesel has 0%)
  • reduction in particulate matter (PM) and thus, reduces carcinogenic risks from PM
  • reduction in poisonous carbon monoxide emissions and ozone forming hydrocarbon exhaust
  • lead free exhaust
  • reduced danger of spills due to its non-toxicity and biodegradability
  • higher flashpoint than regular diesel


It is important to recognize that biodiesel is by no means a perfect fuel source. However, biodiesel is an important part of the solution for our current fuel-associated problems. It is also a way to take a waste and turn it into something useful once again; a simple recycling tool that can have an immensely positive impact.

  • According to an EPA study published in 2002, all emissions except nitrous oxides decrease with biodiesel use. In fact, nitrous oxide concentrations increase with increased biodiesel concentrations, producing greater negative environmental impacts in areas of concerned ozone depletion.
  • Biodiesel contains slightly less energy per kilogram than diesel fuel, leading to a reduction in fuel economy with biodiesel use; a reduction of approximately 1-2% with B20 blends.



Journey to Forever
An excellent comprehensive site on biofuels. It is run by an NGO involved in environmental and rural development work and has very useful links on biodiesel.

National Biodiesel Board
Dominated by the soy industry, this site is not particularly supportive of homebrewers, but there is a wealth of technical information in their library.


"From the Fryer to the Fuel Tank" by Joshua Tickell, Kaia Tickell, Kaia Roman

"Biodiesel Homebrew Guide" by Maria 'girl Mark' Alovert
Contains great simplified and detailed explanations of many aspects of biodiesel production as well as many other suggested resource sites.