Interdepartmental collaboration, seed money from the University and used cooking oil from the Hospitality Learning Center are the main ingredients of an MSU Denver pilot project to produce biodiesel fuel on campus.
A $2,500 University grant is funding a study to determine the feasibility of setting up a prototype biodiesel plant, says Shamim Ahsan, assistant professor of environmental science in the Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Department.
After several months of searching for space on campus, project sponsors are closing in on a Fifth Street building for the plant. Plans call for the building to house tri-institutional programs aimed at sustainability and connecting leaders in motorsports, biofuels, water conservation and other industries—to student and faculty resources. The goal is to have the building, which is called “The Fifth Street Hub”, renovated and ready by the start of the spring semester, says Sean Nesbitt, director of facilities planning and space management.
Three departments are working on the biodiesel plant project, which President Stephen Jordan cited in his Welcome Back remarks last month.
Once the plant is up and running, students and faculty from the Mechanical Engineering Technology program will test the University-produced biodiesel on engines and perhaps build a solar power source for the project, says Rich Pozzi, chair of the Engineering Technology Department.
The Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Department will look into the environmental effects of burning biodiesel. The Chemistry Department has offered to provide analysis aimed at producing a purer, more economic product as part of its ongoing biodiesel studies.
Even the Hotel and Hospitality Learning Center has a role. Chad Gruhl, associate professor and chair of the Hospitality, Tourism and Events Department, says the center, along with Burger Works and the SpringHill Suites Denver Downtown, will supply used cooking oil that can be used in biodiesel production.
As for the fuel itself, it will power diesel-engine vehicles on campus.
If the prototype is successful, Ahsan says, sponsors may seek grant money to build a larger plant that could produce 50 to 100 gallons of fuel a day and establish a lab that would test samples from individual or commercial biodiesel makers and generating revenue.
The biodiesel plant, Ahsan says, is a component of a long-term goal of developing a comprehensive course titled “Sustainable Energy”, which could cover technological, chemical and environmental issues and include research and development in other forms of alternative energy through tri-institutional collaboration.
Meanwhile, the Chemistry Department is continuing research into biodiesel.
Chemistry faculty members Tom Vogt, Eric Ball and Mike Jacobs put together an undergraduate team to conduct biodiesel research. Last April, four students won a Provost Award for their poster, Metro State Biodiesel Research Project, at the Undergraduate Research Conference.
One of them, Drew Williams, a 27-year-old environmental chemistry major, had assembled his own biodiesel plant in a vacant garage behind his apartment and used the fuel to power his Volkswagen Jetta with only an occasional trip to the gas station.
“It actually runs better on biodiesel…and it smells a heck of a lot better,” he says.
“I think it’s very cool that Metro is willing to get into this field,” he adds. “It could potentially save the school some money and at the same time make us a greener school.”
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