At Luther, rather than sending our fryer oil to the landfill, we turn it into biodiesel. The biodiesel then gets mixed in a 50/50 blend with standard diesel and is used to fuel our lawnmowers and other maintenance vehicles.
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 percent, 20 percent, and 0.35 percent respectively. Essentially, it is taking a triglyceride (veggie oil) and making it into a methyl/ethyl ester (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.