UR Biodiesel, a project designed by University of Rochester undergraduates to convert excess fryer oil from dining service centers into biodiesel to fuel shuttle buses, has been given the Excellence in Innovations for Sustainability Award by the Association of College Unions International (ACUI). The award was presented on March 2 during the ACUI's 2010 Annual Conference in New York City.
According to the ACUI, the award recognizes a member of the association that has done the most to solve "environmental challenges by using innovative and environmentally sustainable practices or creative partnerships." The ACUI looks for a project that has a "significant or novel sustainability advantage" and the "potential to deliver major benefits to the community."
"All of the students involved with UR Biodiesel are thrilled to have won this award," says Ellen Sadri, a freshman who is the chair of UR Biodiesel and a member of Engineers for a Sustainable World, the student organization that manages the project. "Considering that last year an entire building (the Dudley H. Davis Center at the University of Vermont) won the award, we are honored that our efforts have been recognized."
Founding team members Chris Babcock '07, David Borrelli '09, Dan Fink '09, and Eric Weissmann '10 submitted UR Biodiesel as an idea for Rochester's Charles and Janet Forbes Entrepreneurial Competition back in fall 2006. Their business plan proposed a way to save the University money by converting waste vegetable oil from River Campus dining centers, which were paying to have the waste product removed, into biodiesel to power buses. Earning a second-place win, and garnering encouragement from the judges, the team decided to put their plan into action.
Over the course of the last four years, the idea has blossomed into a fully functioning lab that produces about 30 gallons of biodiesel each week. The biodiesel is blended with diesel, at a ration of 80 percent diesel, 20 percent biodiesel. In addition to being used in the campus shuttle, two University contractors, AEY and P&J construction companies, use biodiesel in on-site equipment such as backhoes.
UR Biodiesel includes a significant academic component. Ben Ebenhack, senior lecturer in the chemical engineering department and the project's faculty advisor, allows students to run experiments in his lab to test the science behind the biodiesel processor. Students who do work in the lab also can receive course credit through an independent study.
"Student projects shouldn't be flat," says Weissmann of the students' commitment to look for new challenges and goals for UR Biodiesel's development and growth. "The main idea—that students are involved in a serious sustainability project—is still there and growth gives the project a stronger chance at longevity."
UR Biodiesel depends on support from administrative units, including Dining Services, River Campus Facilities, Parking and Transportation Services, and the Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
ACUI's Web site describes the organization as a nonprofit educational organization for college union and student activities professionals across the country. Its stated mission is to "support the development of campus communities through education, advocacy, and delivery of services."