Students to process waste vegetable oil from ISU Dining to fuel CyRide bus

AMES, Iowa -- Some Iowa State University students are serious about getting their campus community "on the bus" when it comes to green living. And they hope to pick up some other Ames residents along the way.

That's at least the plan, according to David Correll, a Ph.D. student in ISU's College of Business and co-founder and president of ISU BioBus -- an entrepreneurial student initiative that will soon recycle waste vegetable oil from ISU Dining campus facilities and turn it into biodiesel to power a CyRide bus. The BioBus students are installing their new processor in their Biorenewables Research Laboratory headquarters over the next couple of weeks and hope to produce their first supply of fuel to run a CyRide bus by the beginning of March.

The project has been two years in the making since developing the idea through another sustainable agriculture campus group that Correll had founded.

"We have people who have been interested in home brewing fuel, so it was just something that a lot of us knew about," said Correll, who earned his master's degree from Iowa State with co-majors in sustainable agriculture and biorenewable resources and technology. "And we thought, 'Gosh, we could do it here. We have the know-how.' And there's this sustainable drive from the university [Live Green]. It's also pushing to be known as a place where students can really be prepared to go into the biorenewable sector. So we thought, 'What a good fit.'

"It's not new [processing waste oil for fuel] and that's why we thought it was doable," he continued. "Really for us, it was setting up this sustainable, viable entity that was going to be a reliable player for the university -- providing fuel and serving students as a learning experience."

Funded by campus grants

Now with some 20 active members, the BioBus organization has been assisted financially by a grant from the College of Business, and a Coleman Entrepreneurial Fellow grant awarded to advisor Tom Brumm, an ISU associate professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering, through the ISU Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship.

The project has been approved for a two-phase plan by representatives from ISU's Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S). In the initial phase, ISU Dining will provide BioBus members five gallons per week of waste oil from the Union Drive Marketplace dining facility to be processed into biodiesel.

"Logistically, our biggest challenge is that the grease is stored at the dining center for a big commercial company that has specially designed vacuum pumps that can pump it out," Correll said. "Since we don't have that truck, our team needs to build something affordable to get it out without ever spilling it."

Once the oil is processed into fuel, EH&S staff members will immediately transport it to CyRide. No fuel will be stored in the BioBus lab.

The fuel is to be blended in one of the older, shorter route CyRide buses that already blends biodiesel. CyRide officials plan to monitor its performance.

Hopes to expand their waste oil reach

Phase two calls for the group to use more waste oil from the Union Drive Marketplace and to eventually pick up waste oil from all ISU dining facilities. And ISU Dining is more than happy to provide students with the oil.

"ISU Dining is part of student affairs and this provides students this opportunity," said Nancy Levandowski, director of ISU Dining. "We've got the oil and it's pristine oil because we now use soy-based oil in our cooking. We also put in systems that actually filter the oil. So we look forward to working as partners -- both with the students and EH&S -- to get us to the level where we can power this bus."

If all goes well, Correll says the group may extend its reach to collect waste oil from other area restaurants. He also says there may be future plans to use a byproduct from the processing -- glycerin -- to produce hand soap that the group could sell to sustain the project financially.

But right now, they just want to see a CyRide bus run on their fuel.

"Initially, we're making a pretty modest dent, honestly, in diesel fuel consumption at Iowa State," Correll said. "This is really more of an education outreach effort to close the loop on campus to show everyone here that it absolutely can be done."

BioBus members will have a poster presentation at ISU's Symposium on Sustainability on Monday, Feb. 21, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in the Memorial Union. They are also planning a public event for Earth Day on Friday, April 22.

Additional information about BioBus is available on its website, or on Facebook.