Chemical Engineering Students Produce Biodiesel Fuel

Dr. Randy Weinstein, Chair of the Department of Chemical Engineering, and graduate student Adam Hoffman ChE '09

Villanova University is getting more mileage out of its cooking oil, thanks to the efforts of a group of senior and graduate Chemical Engineering students. Under the advisement of Dr. Kenneth Muske, the Mr. and Mrs. Robert F. Moritz Sr. Chair in Systems Engineering and Professor of Chemical Engineering, the students have designed and built a production facility for converting the waste cooking oil from Dining Services into biodiesel fuel, which is now powering diesel-run lawn mowers on campus. This initiative, which began as a senior design project last year by Adam Hoffman and Justin Yeash ChE '09, is another example of how engineering students continue to promote sustainable practices through their research.

According to Dr. Randy Weinstein, Professor and Chair of the Department of Chemical Engineering, the students took responsibility for every phase of the project and completed all the work on campus. They determined how much waste oil is produced on campus, how much diesel fuel the Facilities Management Office uses, and which vehicles would be available for biodiesel fueling. After researching economic and safety factors, students designed a production facility around the size of the problem.

Housed in the Unit Operations Laboratory in the Chemical Engineering Building, the facility is close to reaching full production and is expected to yield 50 gallons of biodiesel fuel every two weeks. The next phase of the project is to provide fuel for other diesel vehicles on campus. The University also has received a permit from the state that will make the fuel available for vehicles that use public roads.

It is the goal of the Chemical Engineering Department not only to continue production but also to use the facility for undergraduate education and for new research. “In addition to incorporating the facility into one of the teaching labs and possibly a freshman engineering course, we would like to investigate other bio wastes that can be converted into some useful form,” Dr. Weinstein said.