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  • [ April 4, 2013 ]
  • Students gain entrepreneurial skills while saving the planet

David Correll holds up a jar of the reclaimed cooking oil that will later be turned into usable biodiesel inside the Biorenewable Research Lab. Photo: Kait McKinney/Iowa Energy Center

BioBus is just another innovative organization on campus working to reduce the university’s carbon footprint and inspire others to do the same. The philosophy behind the BioBus project is simple: recycle used cooking oil and turn it into useable fuel.

After the cooking oil has been used to make food for the dining centers, BioBus acquires the used oil where they begin drying it in the lab. Once the fuel is sufficiently dried, two chemicals are added followed by heating the substance. This process causes the glycerin to separate from the substance leaving a biodiesel product. Once the fuel is washed and dried again to make sure the biodiesel is of high quality, the fuel is given to CyRide.

David Correll is a Ph.D. student in Iowa State’s business college and is one of the co-founders of the organization. Correll came to Iowa State to earn his master of science in economics in 2005, and has been active in the Iowa State community ever sense. With Correll co-majoring in sustainable agriculture and biorenewable resources and technologies, it’s no wonder why BioBus has become increasingly successful.

The oil transformation process permanently thins the vegetable oil so that it is compatible with biodiesel engines in the CyRide busses. This semester, Correll and the BioBus crew spend Thursdays in the Biorenewables Research Laboratory (BRL) on campus, engaging in all the processes needed to effectively transform the oil into fuel. BioBus also meets on Wednesday nights where members come up with recruitment strategies and promotional material, leaving BioBus needing a wide variety of talents and opening doors for students outside the engineering realm.

“Partly we’re trying to reduce ISU’s carbon footprint by giving an alternative to diesel fuel, but a big part of what we are doing is trying to show that normal people can make alternative fuels,” Correll said.

Correll is thankful for the generosity of Iowa State and other outside institutions in helping BioBus succeed. The BRL is located on campus, where the BioBus crew works to accomplish the organization’s main task. The used cooking oil is provided by the university for free, where in most cases a commercial organization would pay the university for the used oil. CyRide is willing to use the fuel for free and has been supportive as the organization has grown. Environmental Health and Safety has been one of BioBus’ best friends as it has provided needed resources such as lab coats, gloves and other safety equipment. The EHS also periodically audits the process to make sure optimal safety is still in order. BioBus has been given grants by the Iowa State College of Business and the Papajohn Center.

So far, the organization is only making enough fuel to power one CyRide bus, but Correll sees that number increasing in the future. As of now, the used oil is only being collected from one dining center on campus, and Correll hopes they will be able to collect from more cafeterias and possibly be able to sell the fuel for profit.

Not only is this organization reducing the need for diesel fuel one jar of cooking oil at a time, but the experience has opened many doors for its members. Students working with BioBus have landed internships and jobs because of working with the organization.

“It’s amazing that we went form an idea to a reality with all these members making all this fuel,” Correll says.

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