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Cooking Oil Fuels Northwestern and Loyola Shuttles

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A new partnership between Northwestern and Loyola universities will allow Northwestern to convert used vegetable oil from the schools’ dining halls into biodiesel to power their fleet of campus shuttles.

The partnership also involves Chicago Biofuels, a local for-profit company that specializes in collecting used cooking oils from restaurants and other businesses and filtering the oil for sale to biodiesel producers.

The used oil will be collected from Northwestern University’s Evanston campus dining halls and transported to Loyola’s campus biodiesel lab for processing.

“The carbon footprint is extremely low because there are not a lot of transportation or processing costs,” said Pete Probst, director of business development at Chicago Biofuels. “We’re not buying fossil fuels from another part of the world. We’re using renewable energy produced locally and we think that’s a good model to pursue.”

By using biodiesel to fuel campus shuttles, Northwestern is not only taking steps to invest in locally produced alternative fuel, it will also be reducing its environmental impact, according to Probst.

U.S. Department of Energy data shows that pure biodiesel produced from waste vegetable oil results in a 75 percent reduction in overall emissions over the course of the recycled fuels’ life cycle when compared to traditional petroleum-based diesel extracted by oil rigs.

The B20 fuel for the shuttles will be a blend of 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petroleum diesel. Burning the fuel directly reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 15 percent.

The Northwestern and Loyola collaboration is designed not only to increase biodiesel production, but also to foster education and outreach, said Brian Peters, assistant vice president for University Services at Northwestern. 

The collaboration comes in advance of the opening of an upgraded biodiesel lab on Loyola’s campus, slated to open in August 2013. The new facility will drastically increase the lab’s biodiesel production capacity from the current maximum of around 2,500 gallons a year to around 25,000 gallons.

“The Northwestern partnership is kind of our pilot project,” said Zach Waickman, manager of the Loyola biodiesel lab. “We’re hoping to really launch this whole idea into the Chicagoland higher education community. We’re hoping that in the next few months, we’ll be announcing more and more schools that will be joining up.”

Collection from Northwestern’s campus dining halls began on October 15, but estimates of exactly how much fuel can be reprocessed for use by on-campus transportation services are still unavailable.

However, the efficiency of biodiesel reprocessing should lead to considerable yields and little waste.

“It’s a pretty magical chemical conversion where we get one unit of fuel for every unit of oil we put in,” said Waickman.

Biodiesel production also yields a by-product called glycerin, which the Loyola lab uses to produce hand soap. According to Waickman, within the next year, this glycerin-based hand soap will be the only soap used in Loyola’s campus bathrooms.

Though producing biodiesel is the primary goal of this green initiative, Waickman expects the partnership to impact both universities in many other ways.

“Our lab will not only be servicing these other schools by helping them be more sustainable, but it will also serve as a resource for classes to come take tours and for collaborative research between the universities,” Waickman.

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