Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sustainability Beyond Biodiesel

One goal of the UR Biodiesel project is to be sustainable throughout the entire process. This means everything from using Cogen to heat the UR Biodiesel facility to using recycled plumbing so that we don't need to buy new. Not only is this sustainable, but it saves money. Here is a mostly complete list of everything we are doing sustainably (other than the whole using waste vegetable oil to power a campus bus, of course).

1. Cogen/Radiant Heating: The UR Biodiesel facility is heated by a hot water radiant flooring system using the University's Cogeneration plant. This truly "closes the sustainable loop" and uses an existing heat source. We hope to eventually use this same Cogen hot water to preheat the waste vegetable oil before it enters the processor, but this is a little farther off....

2. Sink: The sink in the facility was removed from another campus site (NSRL/UFC) when lab space was converted into offices.

3. Waste Vegetable Oil/Processor stand: The stand that the waste vegetable oil storage drums sit on, which is the same stand that the processor will sit on, is a combination of materials from three buildings on campus, including NSRL/UFC, 612 Wilson Blvd., and the Frederick Douglass Building. The parts used to put it together were mostly surplus from various projects.

4. Shelving Unit: The shelving units, on top of which are the settling tank, wash tank and dry tank, was purchased from a surplus supply warehouse at a fraction of the cost. The shelving is certainly not brand new, but it is sturdy, gets the job done, and eliminated the need for a brand new shelving unit.

5. Lab Bench: The lab bench in the facility, which is important for running tests and completing paperwork, was given to us by a Chemical Engineering lab in Gavett. It was in a lab that did not need it, and we were certainly willing to take it off their hands.

6. 55-Gallon Drums: We are using a number of 55-gallon drums to store, wash, dry and heat the waste vegetable oil and biodiesel. We have a steel 55-gallon drum that we plucked right out of the trash, and we are using two 55-gallon poly-drums that were given to us from the River Campus auto shop that were formerly used to store windshield washer fluid.

7. Piping: Much of the piping we are using in the facility, including the water pipes, Cogen pipes, and pipes that will be used to move the WVO around the facility, is salvaged material from various construction projects around campus.

8. Exit Sign: The Exit sign we are using over the door to the facility was leftover from a renovation job on campus.

9. Door Hardware: The hardware on the door to the facility itself, including the handle, the latch, etc., was recycled from another door which was replaced.

10. Heat Exchanger: The heat exchanger that is being used for the UR Biodiesel facility was abandoned after Cogeneration was installed in a campus building, so it no longer used steam and therefore had no more need for the heat exchanger.

11. Processor: The processor itself is the most important component of the entire biodiesel-making process, and arguably the most expensive. We are using an old water heater as our processor, as it was unused in a River Campus building.

12. Methanol: Methanol is one of the chemicals used in the processor, as it is mixed with the waste vegetable oil. We will be acquiring our methanol from the University Hazardous Waste office. That office takes waste chemicals such as methanol from around the University to safely dispose of them. What a better way to dispose of waste methanol than by using it to create biodiesel!

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