Memphis is already home to two biodiesel manufacturers: Milagro Biofuels and Memphis Biofuels. But by next year, the University of Memphis will be making its own biodiesel — and this unit will be on wheels.
The school recently won a $99,000 state grant to make a mobile biodiesel mini-manufacturing unit. The small plant will be taken to area high schools and events to demonstrate how biodiesel is made.
"We're hoping to advance the manufacture of biodiesel while informing the public," says John Hochstein, engineering department chair. Biodiesel is a clean-burning fuel produced from renewable resources such as soybean oil, cottonseed oil, and even animal fat. It produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions than regular diesel.
The idea for the grant stemmed from one of professor Srikant Gir's engineering classes, in which students worked together to build a very small biodiesel unit.
"The system the students put together is very nice, but it puts out fuel on a small scale. We're talking maybe a quart at a time," Gir says.
But the unit inspired Gir to find funding for a larger, mobile unit.
Once the mobile unit is complete, on-campus cafeterias will donate used vegetable oil to the engineering department. Part of the grant also funds testing equipment so the university can ensure the fuel it produces is suitable for use in vehicles. After the fuel has undergone testing, it will be used in university vehicles.
"We're not making this to sell on the open market," Hochstein says. "We're just trying to make a closed loop on campus. It's both economically and environmentally positive for the university."
Andrew Couch, a biofuels advocate with the West Tennessee Clean Cities Coalition, says the mobile facility will create a first generation of college-educated workers with specialties in biodiesel.
"People are going to have a better understanding of what biofuels are before they get jobs working at biofuels plants," Couch says. "Most people now working in biofuels have come from other process technologies, like chemical plants or food plants. In the future, we'll have workers who have worked with biofuels in college."