LAWRENCE – A multidisciplinary group of researchers and students from the University of Kansas will have a prominent role at the nation’s largest biodiesel conference.
The University of Kansas Biodiesel Initiative – a team of faculty and students that transforms used cooking oil into biodiesel fuel – will host a forum at the ninth annual National Biodiesel Conference on Feb. 5 in Orlando, Fla.
The KU group will host the conference’s Collegiate Biodiesel Producers Forum, a session specifically for faculty and students involved in university-based biodiesel production. The forum is designed to address issues unique to university biodiesel facilities and to encourage students and faculty to pursue research and careers in biodiesel.
“It’s a big deal for us to host a forum at such a high-profile event,” said Susan Williams, associate professor of chemical and petroleum engineering and KU Biodiesel Initiative team co-director. “This is a great opportunity to showcase the research KU is doing to address the world’s energy needs, and it’s exciting to be recognized as a model for other universities to emulate.”
KU is among just a handful of universities with an on-campus biodiesel production lab, said Ilya Tabakh, a graduate research assistant with the KU Transportation Research Institute and co-director of the KU Biodiesel Initiative. So far, those individual labs have had few opportunities to network with each other – or even assemble a contact list or comprehensive inventory of each other’s capabilities.
“The forum will give us a better picture of what other university biodiesel production labs are out there, and what they’re working on,” Tabakh said.
The National Biodiesel Conference is considered the nation’s premier biodiesel conference. Hosted by the National Biodiesel Board, the four-day event is designed for policymakers, researchers and biodiesel industry leaders to explore topics such as governmental policy, technical issues and marketing trends.
The KU Biodiesel Initiative is a student-run operation to produce biodiesel from used cooking oil generated on the KU campus. The initiative is based out of a refining lab in Burt Hall, where the discarded oil is refined, washed, tested and transformed into pure biodiesel capable of powering a conventional diesel engine. The biodiesel is then provided to KU’s landscaping and construction departments to power their vehicles.
The lab currently refines approximately 40 gallons of environmentally friendly biodiesel every three days – or 3,500 gallons per year. The initiative’s goal is to produce enough biodiesel to power all KUs buses, landscaping and maintenance equipment, and on-campus generators.
While researchers nationwide are focused on alternative fuels, KU’s efforts are distinctive in that they integrate research spanning the entire biofuels production process – from growing the plants that make the oil, to refining and producing the biofuel, to designing engines and machines that can use the fuel, to testing the environmental impact. It’s this integration of biofuels research across the entire “feedstock to tailpipe” spectrum at a single university that makes KU’s efforts unique.
“A lot of places are looking at snapshots,” Williams said. “They may look at some of the processing or some of the emissions or some of the feedstocks, but very few places are doing this as an integrated approach. That’s what makes the KU initiative so special.”