Cal Poly’s Biodiesel Club has made a progressive step toward making Cal Poly a green campus with a proposed goal of running all the school’s diesel equipment on cleaner burning fuel. In a successful three-month test last summer, one of the agriculture department’s tractors ran on B15, a mixture of diesel fuel containing 15 percent biodiesel.
“It’s new, and new things are always hard to bring to a system that already works,” said Ian Woertz, founder of the Biodiesel Club and environmental engineering graduate. “Our initial goal was getting biodiesel in every vehicle on campus right away, but we came to the realization that it’s not going to work that way, so the tractor was more of a stepping stone to prove to people that it doesn’t take a lot of effort to start running on biodiesel.”
Woertz hopes Cal Poly will start running campus vehicles on B20, 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent diesel fuel, which he says is the standard for most fleets and the easiest way to make the transition from traditional fuels.
Biodiesel is a renewable diesel fuel made from plant oil and animal fats. Most biodiesel is produced from soybean oil, but it can also come from vegetable oil waste, like the grease restaurants throw away.
Cal Poly’s Campus Dining currently pays to have vegetable oil waste removed from campus.
“We want to start making biodiesel on campus to eventually try to close the loop. We found out that campus dining goes through 120 gallons of vegetable oil per week, so that could potentially be a third of diesel consumption on campus,” Woertz said.
Using biodiesel to fuel machines, like automobiles, is often confused with running a car on straight vegetable oil, requiring a separate fuel and heating system. Biodiesel is actually made through a chemical process called transesterification where glycerin is separated from the fat or vegetable oil, creating methyl esters, which can be used in any diesel engine with little or no modification.
B100, or 100 percent biodiesel, can reduce emissions that contribute to air pollution up to 75 percent. Biodiesel is less toxic than table salt, biodegrades as fast as sugar and can even clean oil diesel build-up from fuel tanks, according to a Biodiesel Club press release.
“Biodiesel will be an essential part of the renewable energy future,” said Jess Turnbull, president of the Biodiesel Club and aerospace engineering sophomore.
The Biodiesel Club hopes to inform students and faculty about the uses, production, benefits and drawbacks of biodiesel in a seminar called, “Biodiesel 101,” to be held on today from 11 a.m. to noon in the engineering building, room 118. Woertz hopes attendees of the seminar leave with a basic understanding of biodiesel.
“There’s a lot of confusion about what biodiesel is. A lot of people think, ‘Oh, that’s running your car on grease and it smells like french fries, right?’” Woertz said. “It’s not that. It’s actually taking the vegetable oil and refining it into a chemical that’s similar to diesel fuel, so it burns cleaner and is approved by the EPA.”
The biodiesel seminar will also include a special presentation by Carlo Luri, chemical engineer and general manager of Bently Biofuels. According to their Web site, the company plants canola seeds and harvests them to use in the production of biodiesel.
The founder of Bently Biofuels, Donald E. Bently, owns a host of other companies and also happens to be the top contributor to Cal Poly’s College of Engineering.
Biodiesel Club leaders hope the seminar is the first step in getting more students learning about biodiesel and how Cal Poly can use it to help the campus.
“Everyone is really supportive on campus, all the faculty really want it to happen. It’s just a matter of getting enough students together and getting enough money together, which is all happening right now. We are an IRA (Instructionally Related Activities) funded project, thanks to all of the students who voted for the IRA increase last year,” Woertz said.
The Cal Poly Biodiesel Club is also in the process of building a mobile biodiesel processor to demonstrate and improve biodiesel production on campus and to show students and faculty that it is possible to take small steps toward a greener campus.
The Biodiesel Club holds regular meetings every other Wednesday from 6 to 7 p.m. in the Cotchett Education building, room 212. The next meeting is set for Nov. 8.