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Converting a UVM vehicle to run on vegetable oil

 

CEF: Veggie Oil for UVM Vehicle

Overview
            The University of Vermont relies heavily upon fossil fuels for its transportation needs; large vehicles are powered by compressed natural gas while smaller ones depend on gasoline. By changing fuel sources it is possible to lower our dependence upon finite resources. This proposal is for the conversion of one of the diesel powered vehicles that already exists within the University fleet. It is possible that by capturing a portion of the waste grease that is created in the dining facilities on campus the Clean Energy Fund will be able to act as a catalyst for further exploration in the use of alternative energies in transportation. The education aspect teaches students about actual solutions that exist to our energy crisis and the way small movements have the power to make changes that act as a model for lifestyle changes that are independent of fossil fuels much the way the “Big Green Bus” has at Dartmouth College.
            On the webpage of the UVM Physical Plant there is some information on what happens to waste oil on campus: “Used oil is hauled to a New Hampshire company, Smart Fuel America, which blends it into a biofuel. The biofuel is then used to power a Brattleboro, Vermont paper mill -- the first in the nation to solely use vegetable fuels to run its plant.” Although this is a suitable use for the waste product we would like to bring the benefits of this process to campus.
                                   
Methodology and timeframe

The conversion of the vehicle will be broken down into multiple, somewhat flexible stages over the course of one school year and if successful, repeated each year thereon. The planning phase of the process requires arrangements for the collection, transportation, and location of a production site of the recycled vegetable oil. The vegetable oil can be obtained through the UVM dining halls once a contract releasing the oil to UVM is signed with SODEXO and other necessary affiliates. Funds could be used to implement the infrastructure necessary for oil collection barrels in the kitchens across campus and arrange for their transportation from the dining facilities to a location later to be determined for on-site (on campus) biofuel production. One of the diesel powered buses will also need to undergo any necessary conversions, so campus students and professors of mechanical engineering will also be engaged in the process, voluntarily by organization or intentionally through a class focusing on retrofitting and green technologies.

Similarly, the production of fuel will be conducted by either a class or an organized group of students voluntarily involved in the project, led by professors and biofuel one or two professionals in the state who can be hired under a salary to oversee the production process to ensure the process of transesterification (converting vegetable oil to fuel) is carried out safely and effectively. If there is enough student interest, there is great potential for making this into a course for students for which they can register each year- learning the mechanical and chemical processes of various green retrofitting and conversion technologies. Otherwise, student engagement via outreach through CEF and other environmental organizations can be used to gain student involvement. Depending on the course/group’s meeting structure and the influx of the vegetable oil, barrels can be collected on a bi-weekly or monthly basis to be treated. In this way, the process of biofuel production will become a learning process as problem solving skills become crucial to making the bus run.

The process of transesterification entails the addition of an alcohol which removes glycerin from the oil to create a viscosity almost identical to petrodiesel, forming a biodiesel that meets ASTM D6751 specifications allowing the engine to perform at high industry standards. For the purposes of this project, we think it is important to recognize that clean energy is just one way in which we can achieve sustainability. By composting the glycerin leftover from the biodiesel production process, the project will serve as a tool for understanding how a comprehensive approach is crucial to sustaining any alternative energy project. Using hot compost that has been well aerated, the glycerin mixes into compost, increasing the rate at which the pile composts while breaking down the glycerin load. By linking these two processes, we can understand the cyclical nature of our actions and how we must be conscious of all stages of any process in order to ensure that our “clean energy” idea is self-sustaining in a way that is not environmentally destructive but rather, beneficial.

Image source: <burnveg.com>

Benefits
            One of the major benefits of this project would be to educate members of the University community on transportation; by raising awareness through connecting food service to transportation it is possible to engage students and staff alike. In general people do not fully comprehend the amount of fuel that is used on an everyday basis because they are disconnected and only experience one side of the energy market. No one ever sees the volume of fuel that they pump into their car but it is something that most people do at least once a week.
            By using waste vegetable oil that is generated on campus everyday it is possible to reduce the footprint of not just transportation on campus but also dining facilities. Currently our waste oil is shipped to New Hampshire and then back to southern Vermont. Direct use of this resource on campus would keep the process in house. Approximately one hundred and fifty to two hundred gallons are produced every month. This should be more than enough to meet the fueling needs of one vehicle.
            The economic impact of this project will pay for itself in a very short time. The primary costs associated with this are for startup and maintenance of the vehicle, which is negligible if we use an existing vehicle that is in the UVM fleet. Money will not only be saved in fuel costs but also in the costs associated with removing the waste oil. By reducing costs on two levels this project will pay for itself in a short amount of time and may open the discussion of sourcing fuels for other vehicles in a different way.
Student Engagement

Any student that attends the class (or workshop) will be directly engaged and involved, from start to end; From the collection and storage of the vegetable oil, to converting a vehicle from uvm’s fleet to run on straight vegetable oil.  

The vehicle could be used to promote the class in the future, which would help engage students.  It could be used as a shuttle either on campus or for off campus events for classes (field trips, etc).  It could be featured at environmental,  “green”, and educational events, summits, etc. It might lead to a future employment opportunity (work-study position?) (collecting the oil, maintaining and promoting the vehicle) or research project about the amount of oil used per gallon, how efficient it is, etc.  There are many ways in which to engage and involve students and the public.  Another way to promote or encourage this is with the movement to go local (use less fossil fuels to transport the vegetable oil, have everything on site and remove a diesel vehicle from UVM’s fleet. Keep it local!).

Justification of use of student-supported

This project is ideal for the Clean Energy Fund because it fits its vision perfectly. By converting a UVM diesel vehicle to run on vegetable oil we will be moving the university forward in all aspects of the CEF’s vision. We will be reducing UVM’s diesel consumption by one vehicle, and converting this vehicle to run on a clean burning non fossil- fuel.  The vegetable oil that is used for this vehicle, if needed, will be found from a variety of sources. Our main source will be UVM itself and the various dining facilities it has. We already know that several of the dining facilities produce a significant amount of waste vegetable oil, and although already put it to good use, we can do even better with it. If the vegetable oil that UVM provides isn’t sufficient for our vehicle, then the remainder of the fuel can come from the numerous local restaurants that create waste vegetable oil. These sources will not only provide a locally produced clean burning fuel, which moves UVM one step closer to being a green and local campus, but it will also support the local economy with the money used to buy the waste vegetable oil. Putting money back into the local economy is an important role UVM plays in our community and one the CEF tries to support; this is just one more way the university will be able to do this.

Budget & Funding
Costs for this project: Approximately $3,500 to convert the vehicle.
This includes:
·        Adding a fuel tank with a heater
·        Fuel lines to the engine
·        Filter and valve set
·        Toggle switch in case the driver needs to switch to the diesel fuel back up.
Cost of converting the vehicle: If there is someone at UVM with the knowledge to do this, the cost will not increase. However if there is no one on campus with the knowledge there are mechanics for hire who are specialized in converting vehicles from diesel to vegetable oil. They normally charge about $600 to come and convert a vehicle. Since we will be asking them to give a lesson on converting a vehicle, this will cost more, we can say $1,500.

Converting a UVM vehicle to vegetable oil will decrease the university’s fuel consumption by one vehicle, and therefore reduce the amount of money we spend on fuel by one vehicle. If the UVM dining facilities are able to produce all of the vegetable waste needed then there will be no cost whatsoever to running the vehicle. If they are not, then the cost of purchasing the remainder of the vegetable oil will still be less than the cost of diesel fuel, and still lower UVM’s money spent on fuel.

 

Expenses:

Converting the Vehile: $3,500

Someone to teach how to convert the engine: $1,500

Total: $5,000

Academic Support
We have contacted a few of the current instructors in the ENCS 285 class and are waiting to hear back about whether or not they would like to support this project idea.

References
http://www.uvm.edu/sustain/cef/about
http://www.uvm.edu/sustain/cef/project-selection-criteria
http://www.uvm.edu/~recycle/?Page=recycling/guide/kitchen_oil.html
http://www.greaseworks.org/svo
http://www.thebiggreenbus.org/

 

Contact information:

Nolan Benoit-nolan.benoit@uvm.edu

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