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P3 Loyola University winners in Region 5

BYLINE: Dave Newbart, The Chicago Sun-Times

(April 28, 2008) - For this class, the greasier the french fries, the better.

That's because students in Loyola University's "Solutions to Environmental Problems'' course need the old cooking oil used to make fries to make biodiesel fuel -- a cleaner-burning fuel made from a renewable resource.

The fuel is made in a small lab on campus and has been used in a snow plow and some vehicles driven by Loyola faculty.

Students are involved in every step of the production process. But the class, which started earlier this year, also involves disciplines beyond science: Social work students have researched the possibility of providing the fuel to help nearby low-income residents heat their homes, and the school is planning to make the fuel available for vehicles used by the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Communications students have shot a documentary on the process.


And they are learning about the controversy surrounding crop-based fuels, which includes a debate over the loss of land once used for food production and how much the fuels decrease global warming.

Supporters say biodiesel provides a good way to recycle waste cooking oil and that it could eventually become a good way for small communities to become less dependent on crude oil.

"We understand it's not the solution, but there is room for expansion, and you can make a positive impact,'' said Shane Lishawa, a course instructor who manages the Loyola biodiesel lab.

The school got a $10,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to buy two 100-gallon tanks and other equipment to make the fuel. The lab is large enough to use all of the waste grease produced at campus eateries. They also collect from a local restaurant, Uncommon Ground.


In the lab, the students filter out bits of food and other solids from the oil, then mix it with sodium hydroxide --lye, used in drain cleaners--and methanol. They heat it to 130 degrees, creating biodiesel. The waste product from the process, glycerin, is turned into soap.

The resulting product is then washed in water, making it far cleaner than traditional diesel fuel because it emits less carbon and sulfur, faculty said. Still, biodiesel does raise levels of nitrogen oxides, considered harmful.

Although it took a while to get the final process in place, students are now making about 80 gallons a week. Sophomore Cameron Stamm acknowledged the limitations of biodiesel, but she said it appears to be better for the environment than fossil fuels.

"This is a good solution, at least for the short term," said Stamm, 19, of Palatine. "Last year, they were taking the grease and putting it in the Dumpster. We are taking it and making something useful out of it."

Loyola on Tuesday received a $75,000 grant from the EPA to teach high school students how to make biodiesel. Students and staff previously helped Highland Park High School set up a lab, creating several budding environmentalists, Assistant Principal Tom Koulentes said.

The reaction to the program on campus has been positive, officials said, especially in the wake of students recently voting overwhelming to raise their fees by $1 per semester to go toward student-led projects using sustainable resources. The campus administration still must approve the fee, which supporters said could raise $18,000 a year.

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