Deep-fried transportation moves two NAU buses
Cooking oil from university dining halls is being turned into a biodiesel fuel and used in campus transit buses.
A filtering system at Transit Services takes cooking oil collected from the school and turns it into a biodiesel fuel. The oil is taken from the University Union, south campus and the High Country Conference Center. The fuel is currently being tested on two buses. Edgar Civitello, an organic chemistry professor at NAU, helped test the oil to find if it can be used as fuel.
“The biggest problem is fatty acids,” Civitello said. “We did a small five-gallon batch and tested it for fatty acids.”
Civitello said the oil needs to act like a fluid so it can flow more smoothly.
“If fatty acid is present, it causes problems in the engine,” Civitello said. “We made sure, and we found the cooking oil is low in fatty acid.”
The school can benefit from using less diesel and more biodiesel, because the oil is being kept on campus and is used for the university’s own buses.
Chris Johnson is the fleet manager for Transportation Services and helps operate the machine that turns cooking oil into biodiesel fuel. He said the money saved by switching to biodiesel is going to be significant.
“When we first started, diesel was $5 a gallon,” Johnson said. “We are looking to reduce diesel, and the cost of making our own fuel [is] $1.70 a gallon.”
The oil NAU uses now is being made into fuel, and Transit Services picks up the drums of oil outside campus eateries. They then bring the oil back and begin filtering out any food left in the oil, and then they mix it with other chemicals to produce the fuel.
T.C. Eberly, the manager of NAU’s Dining Services, said the cooking oil from the Union was sent out of town in the past.
“We were sending oil down in Verde Valley,” Eberly said. “It was going out of the city of Flagstaff entirely.”
Eberly said the school could just use the oil instead of having someone else come and pick up the oil to handle off campus. Because the oil is of high quality, the school figured it would be best to handle the oil themselves.
“It turns out we have a very high-grade oil,” Eberly said. “We checked the viability and cost ratio, and we’re saving money.”
In the summer, the buses should be able to have a higher ratio of biodisel in the fuel. But during the winter, the ratio of biodiesel to regular diesel will lower because the biodiesel fuel thickens easier. This has led to a fear that the fuel will freeze during the coldest months of the year.
Some students at schools such as the University of Connecticut and the University of Colorado work with making biodiesel as a part of their curriculum.
Not only is the cooking oil now recycled on campus, but Johnson said using biodiesel is a key component to President Haeger’s pledge for a more sustainable campus because it is made from plants and does not burn as much fossil fuel.
“It burns cleaner,” Johnson said. “We are following in that direction.”