Emory Report
December 4, 2006
Volume 59, Number 13


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December 4 , 2006
Emory reaches milestone with introduction of biodiesel fuel

by helen anne richards

Cliff shuttles are using a new fuel — one that’s renewable, environmentally friendly and readily available. It’s biodiesel, and it’s being made from waste cooking oil gathered from Emory’s kitchens.

Last month with the introduction of the new fuel, Emory reached a milestone in its effort to reduce the amount of fossil fuel it uses. Of the 58 Cliff shuttles, 24 are using a biodiesel blend. The remainder of the fleet is fueled by either compressed natural gas or electricity. Emory’s bus fleet is now 100 percent alternatively fueled.

The diesel shuttles currently use a “B5” biodiesel blend — 5 percent biodiesel and 95 percent diesel derived from petroleum. Emory plans to increase the blend to B20 — 20 percent biodiesel — in the next several months, and ultimately has plans to use 100 percent biodiesel.

“Cooking oil used to feed students is now taking them around campus,” said Laura Ray, associate vice president, transportation and parking. “All the cooking oil we need right now is within a 10-mile radius of campus.”

Biodiesel and raw cooking oil, however, are not the same, even though biodiesel is derived from cooking oil. Restaurants pay to have waste oil removed from their kitchens, putting an economic drain on the business. With biodiesel conversion, restaurants no longer pay to have the oil removed and may even be able to sell oil byproducts.

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Emory’s partner in the biodiesel program, collects the cooking oil from campus kitchens, as well as area restaurants, and filters it to remove food particles. Then, a simple chemical process separates the oil. Two products are left from the process — methyl esters, the chemical name for biodiesel, and glycerin, a byproduct that can be sold for use in soaps and other products. Biodiesel is biodegradable, nontoxic, and essentially free of sulfur and aromatics.

“The biodiesel program fits squarely within Emory’s goals for sustainability,” said Ciannat Howett, director of sustainability initiatives. “Emory is seeking ways to reduce waste, lower air pollution emissions, and improve energy efficiency in order to preserve a high quality of life for ourselves and future generations.”

Ray said that the program is also a “perfect storm” of a student’s vision and Emory’s vision complementing each other. She said Erik Fyfe, a 2006 Emory College graduate, came to her last February to suggest a biodiesel program for the University. The conversion to the new fuel is due in large part to the collaboration among Fyfe, Emory transportation officials and SACE.

Fyfe, now employed by SACE as a refuel program project coordinator, is pleased that the program is working on campus, but envisions larger applications throughout the Atlanta community.

“SACE can produce more energy than Emory needs,” Fyfe said. “Georgia exported 75 percent of the biodiesel it produced last year. We have trouble distributing in a state with no retail locations.”

Fyfe believes, however, that programs like Emory’s will spread to other organizations in the metro area. Already, he says, cities and counties are interested in the possibilities of fueling the vehicles they operate with biodiesel.

“Emory’s program is seeding the market,” he said. With growing interest and more vehicles running on biodiesel, demand should grow for the fuel and the cost should decrease, he said.

SACE currently delivers Emory’s biodiesel to the bus maintenance center on Johnson Road, Ray said, and fuels Emory vehicles only. Future plans, she said, include a retail center for private vehicles.

“By transforming our shuttle buses into a 100 percent alternatively fueled fleet,” Howett said, “we are providing a model that can be adopted by other universities, cities and businesses around the country.”