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New U of M program converts stockpile of Tiger Den grease into biodiesel fuel for campus vehicles
Joseph Russell, The Daily Helmsman, July 18, 2008

When students buy their favorite Tiger Den meals next semester, they may be surprised to know they're helping fill gas tanks around campus.

Thanks to a $100,000 state grant, vehicles around The University of Memphis will run on biofuel converted out of used cooking oil from the Tiger Den and the Blue Zone cafeteria at Richardson Towers. 

With gas prices soaring this summer, as well as the slipping economy, The U of M is looking for ways to conserve energy and save money.

Within weeks, The University is expected to announce the formation of a new center on campus dedicated to do just that - The Center for Biofuel Energy and Sustainable Technology, or BEST.

Current chair of the mechanical engineering department, John Hochstein, will head the center. He said their mission is to build up their capabilities by implementing better uses of energy both on campus and around the community, including building a new lab and informing people in the area of alternative fuels. 

BEST will serve as the home of the machine that will create the alternative fuel from used cooking oil.

Biodiesel, made from animal and plant oils, can be used by any vehicle with a diesel engine. The fuel produced on campus is expected to go back into vehicles on campus, such as the pick-up trucks used by Physical Plant. 

It will take about 7.5 pounds of cooking oil to produce one gallon of biodiesel. 

"Just about every penny" of the $100,000 grant will go towards the construction of a biodiesel production unit, which should be up and running by October. He said it was one of the more efficient ways to create alternative fuel.

"I know the phrase is so overused, but this machine really will be state-of-the-art," Hochstein said.?

The machine is the brainchild of Hochstein and mechanical engineering professor Srikant Gir, who will design and build the contraption. They were the chief recipients of the grant, which they had been working on since January of last year.

No designs have yet been planned and Gir was out of the country, unavailable for comment. Hochstein and Gir will contract a company to build the machine once designs are complete. 

The device is expected to save the school money - the only question is how much, Hochstein said.

"First we have to figure out how much of it can be utilized, and then it has to be certified as usable fuel, but we don't have a number on that yet," said Jim Hellums, assistant vice president of Physical Plant.

In addition to the fuel production unit, other conditions of the grant include an awareness outreach program and the creation of a quality assurance lab, which will test fuel for efficiency.

The creation of biodiesel is nothing new - people have been making their own fuel for years and the trend has grown ever since gas prices have gone up. For those people who choose to make their own, The U of M will be the only place in the state where they can test their fuel. 

"Anybody can make their own fuel. There are some people who buy kits to make their own fuel in their garages and things like that, but they're not always the best," Hochstein said. "Our lab will be able to test our fuels and tell us exactly what we're getting out of them."

© Copyright 2008 Daily Helmsman

For more information: http://best.memphis.edu

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