BU science students make biodiesel from cafeteria waste oil

Reducing waste and upscaling waste products is one of the key components of sustainable development. As part of the BU sustainability lab, we are constantly exploring new ways or testing new technologies to make our labs and campus more sustainable and energy efficient.

One component of the outdoor sustainability lab is a 40-gallon biodiesel reactor that was purchased to produce biodiesel from a variety of oil sources. “The lab has done small-scale experiments with biodiesel production from algal oils (produced in-house), but until that technology is ready to scale up, we were looking to supplement with other oils, and used frying oil seems readily available from our own student cafeteria”- says Dr. John Kyndt.

Casey collecting the used cooking oil from the Aladdin BU campus dining facility.

The BU campus cafeteria crew was immediately excited to help out. “Aladdin Campus Dining is excited to be a part of research involving sustainability.  Being able to collaborate with departments within Bellevue University is an excellent opportunity for dining services to contribute in additional ways to the campus” – says Heather Summers DeBlanche from Aladdin Campus Dining.

The technology to convert waste frying oil into biodiesel has been around for some time now, and although this involves relatively straightforward chemical reactions, this process had to be optimized for this specific waste oil.

Sierra processing the used cooking oil for biodiesel production in the lab.

That is where students from our SUST310 (Energy, Environment and Sustainability) and BI 205 (Biological Investigation ll Laboratory) classes came in. Students Sierra, Anna, and Kaziah, worked on optimizing the catalyst and reaction conditions on a small scale. Students set up reactions (up to 1 liter) in the lab and tested and compared the biodiesel production under several conditions.

Kaziah testing several optimization conditions for the chemical process of biodiesel production.
The final biodiesel is on the top right image.

These reaction conditions can now be scaled up for the larger 40-gallon reactor (some time in the coming weeks). The small-scale process already generated purified biodiesel that can be ignited by compression (as in a regular diesel engine).    

The plan is to produce enough biodiesel in the coming weeks to run a small diesel generator or possibly power some of the lawn care equipment around the campus in the future.

This project is a great example of how local community resources can be used to generate valuable products and how basic principles in chemistry and sustainability can be taught using real-world applications.

So the next time you order your delicious fried food from the cafeteria, you can feel good about the fact that you are supporting science at BU!

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