Students come and go, but some leave lasting imprints on the university. For one club, members took what they learned in their environmental design minor and implemented it into a project with lasting and growing effects.
Last year Cal Poly Biodiesel had 22 members, with majors ranging from agriculture, business and engineering, working hand in hand with Campus Dining to make food services on campus more sustainable.
Since then, the vegetable oil used to fry chicken nuggets and french fries among other tasty snacks has been transported off campus to be converted into biodiesel, and Campus Dining vehicles have begun running on a specific type called B20. On top of that, a 250-gallon dairy tank on campus was adapted to hold the fuel in the last month.
The entire cycle will take place on campus when Cal Poly Biodiesel’s construction of a processor, which will convert the waste oil, is completed in the next couple of months.
“This is a leap in the right direction. We are really optimistic. Biodiesel is an integral part of the environmental mix for a sustainable future,” said Nick Hasheider, a mechanical engineering junior and Cal Poly Biodiesel member.
The number assigned to a biodiesel’s name represents the percentage of biodiesel versus conventional diesel used in the mixture. For example, 20 percent of the fuel is biodiesel in B20.
B99 and B100 are also available but industry standards are moving toward B20, which Cal Poly Biodiesel also recommends. The reason is that biodiesel acts as a cleaning agent. So while it is beneficial for the longevity of an engine, older engines require close monitoring of hosing and filter systems. Additionally, the emissions and lubricant benefits attributed to biodiesel are produced at similar levels from any mixture over 20 percent.
There are two ways to create biodiesel, the first coming from plant oils such as soy or palm. But this method has also sparked debate regarding the amount of farmland needed to produce sufficient amounts to meet demands.
Typically, an acre of soy produces 50 gallons of biodiesel per year compared to the 40,000 gallons of B20 the Cal Poly campus uses a year, which equates to 8,000 gallons of biodiesel, according to industrial engineering senior Eric Veium.
Instead, Cal Poly Biodiesel places more weight on emerging technologies that extract from productive sources such as algae. Veium said conservative estimates show an acre of algae can produce 6,000 gallons per year.
Furthermore, biodiesel production from algae can be used in collaboration with waste water facilities or carbon sequestration methods at coal-burning power plants to reduce carbon emissions and produce biodiesel.
The second source of biodiesel comes from converted vegetable oil, which only becomes biodiesel once it has gone through a specific chemical process.
Veium described the process as “simple, but not easy.”
When waste vegetable oil is collected from campus eateries, it undergoes a thorough scientific process to transform it into usable biodiesel.
“I don’t think biodiesel is the end all solution for alternative fuels, but I’m all for practical solutions and an advocate for a sustainable campus,” Veium said.
The processor Cal Poly Biodiesel is constructing is nearing the final stages of completion and epitomizes those ideals.
The heating systems are run by solar thermal panels and a heat exchanger connected to the tractor radiator. The tractor runs on the biodiesel it helps create and solar energy to power the battery. A shaft running off the motor generates compressed air that is used to control the pumps and mixing processes.
“What we have is a power plant that runs on the fuel it produces. A lot of energy flow using renewable technologies,” Veium said.
Cal Poly Biodiesel’s long-term goal is to provide all 8,000 gallons of biodiesel needed for campus activities from its processor. It would take 40 weeks of running the system four times to create the needed 200 gallons per week.
Campus Dining facilities currently produce 120 gallons of waste oil a week, leaving a shortfall of 80 gallons. Veium said the extra eateries needed for Poly Canyon Village and crops being grown on campus could make up the difference and that finding solutions with new ideas is what sustainability is all about.
“Cal Poly Biodiesel is a small part in the big picture of Cal Poly sustainability. Empower Poly coalition has 19 clubs and organizations that need support and there are other groups that haven’t even been thought of yet,” Veium said.
“Cal Poly should be a leader nation and worldwide in sustainability and that’s done through student involvement.”