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Biofueling Busses

University Business, June 2011
An institution's biodiesel program can be harnessed for community outreach. Students from Loyola University Chicago bring this portable lab with them when visiting local high schools.

When Zach Waickman was a senior at Loyola University Chicago, he had just completed an internship with a major news network in Chicago and planned to pursue a career within his communication major. But, a course focused on biodiesel completely changed his path.

Waickman, who graduated in 2008, is now working toward obtaining his MBA and is biodiesel lab manager for Loyola's Center for Urban Environmental Research, facilitating students in the process of turning waste grease into biodiesel to fuel the university's shuttle busses.

"It's a shame when a school puts their biodiesel project in the hands of facilities management," he says. "This can really be tapped as a multiuse project where we're handling some of the university's waste, providing the university with some sustainable inputs, using the whole process as a living example of sustainability."

Loyola isn't alone. Students at institutions across the country are harnessing the power of waste grease to fuel shuttles on their campuses, proving that more than coronary disease can come from the fried food offerings on the breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus in most college and university dining halls.

At Loyola, the Solutions to Environmental Problems (STEP) course--where Waickman found his passion--focuses on one environmental issue at a time, allowing students from all disciplines to come up with project ideas and work off each other's progress semester to semester. The class has since moved on to focus on food systems and water. In 2009, Waickman and his classmates' idea grew into the university's biodiesel program.

Two years later, Loyola became the first and only school in the country licensed to produce and sell biodiesel. "We've treated ourselves like a small business within the university," says Waickman. All proceeds go directly back into the biodiesel program to cover supply costs, to pay research fellows a stipend, to allow the students to develop new products, and for outreach efforts at local high schools.

Iowa State University and the University of Connecticut have similar student-led operations. At UConn, anywhere from two to five undergraduates per semester work on producing biodiesel, which helps run shuttle busses. A sustainable agriculture discussion group at ISU grew into a group of cross-discipline students working to develop biodiesel from one of the university's dining halls.

David Correll, a PhD student and president of ISU BioBus, says the bus company the university contracts with has been supportive of the process, agreeing to fuel one of its busses with BioBus fuel on a trial basis. In the next phase of the project, the group will choose to either offset that bus' diesel consumption at a higher percentage, or put their fuel into the bus company's diesel tank so some biodiesel would be in all of the busses. "We're hoping to build up to use all of the university's waste grease, then the community," he shares. --Kristen Domonell