Used cooking oil yields renewable resource for ACU

Posted September 24, 2010

ACU’s World Famous Bean creates 20 to 50 gallons of waste vegetable oil every few weeks and must pay to have it hauled off, a costly byproduct of feeding a hungry student body. Now, however, with the help of the Department of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences, this previously unusable resource is being recycled into a renewable energy source – biodiesel.

Dr. Jim Cooke“The U.S. is addicted to oil and non-renewable energy,” says Dr. Jim Cooke, head of ACU’s biodiesel project and professor of agricultural and environmental sciences. “There are better technologies that are cleaner and much more sustainable than traditional fossil fuels.”

According to Cooke, the process of creating biodiesel is fairly simple, requiring only three ingredients: vegetable oil; an alcohol, like methanol; and a catalyst, commonly potassium hydroxide.

Cooke began research on biodiesel in 2007 by collecting waste vegetable oil from ACU Food Services and working on small batches of biodiesel in the plant lab of the Zona Luce Building. With the department’s purchase of a biodiesel processor in 2008, he was able to increase production from 500ml to 24 gallons per batch. In 2009, Dr. Eric Hardegree, professor of chemistry, contributed his expertise to the project as well as some of his lab assistants. With Hardegree’s help, “the chemistry of the process is well understood,” says Cooke.

The goal of the project is to use a waste product to produce a source of energy in an environmentally sound and sustainable manner, which has several positive outcomes:

  • Reduces campus dependency on oil
  • Produces a local product
  • Reuses a waste product

“Our Christian stewardship directs us to care for and nurture the environment, and our current energy consumption patterns are unsustainable,” says Cooke. “We must think of future generations and act in ways that will benefit others.”

The project has already yielded 50 gallons of product that aligns with American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) International standards for biodiesel. ASTM International is one of the largest voluntary standards development organizations in the world and a trusted source for technical standards for materials, products, systems and services.