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NU’s shuttles fueled by fries

ShuttlesIn a partnership with Loyola’s Biodiesel Lab, NU dining hall cooking oil waste is getting new life by being processed into fuel for shuttle buses. Earlier this quarter, Northwestern received its first batch of biodiesel fuel, a whopping 300 gallons that is expected to last about 3 weeks. “We are starting with our contractor’s older buses that are assigned to service the Chicago train station routes and where biofuel can make the most impact.  Hopefully we’ll be able to produce enough biofuel to burn in the newer Evanston buses in the future as well,” stated Assistant Vice President for University Services, Brian Peters.

According to manager of the Loyola Biodiesel Lab, Zach Waikman, oil that would be otherwise discarded by the kitchens is collected by Chicago Biofuels, a third party contractor, who takes it to be filtered and delivered to the Loyola Biodiesel Lab in Rogers Park, Chicago. From there the student-run business takes over and chemically converts the used oil into biodiesel. The process involves a chemical addition of methanol and potassium hydroxide to separate glycerin (later used to make soap) from the hydrocarbon chains to use as fuel. Loyola utilizes a biodiesel boiler and a large geothermal system to heat and cool the process through the chemical reaction and purification processes. The finished fuel is then run through a rigorous suite of quality control tests before being burned in the shuttle buses.

The fuel for the shuttles is a blend of 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petroleum diesel, called B20 fuel. Burning the fuel directly reduces the shuttles carbon dioxide emissions by 15 percent, which is another step to making Northwestern a greener campus. In addition, the 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.

“It’s a pretty magical chemical conversion where we get one unit of fuel for every unit of oil we put in,” said Zach Waickman. Loyola isn’t new to the world of biofuels; they already use biofuels in their own shuttles, and create and sell Bio Soap, a soap made from recycled oils. Bio Soap is available in stores around Chicago, including our Northwestern C-Stores.