When most people think about clean energy, many just think wind and solar. However, the truth is that with the rapid increase in technology and innovation within the last few decades, the possibilities for renewable energy have increased exponentially. Biodiesel, for instance, is one that many people are not familiar with but should be because it is leading the way in clean fuel production. Biodiesel is a renewable, clean-burning diesel replacement that can be made from a diverse mix of feedstocks including recycled cooking oil, soybean oil, and animal fats.
UIUC is participating in the development and expansion of biodiesel in many ways. On campus, there is a registered student organization dedicated to it called The Illinois Biodiesel Initiative (IBI). Their primary mission is to produce biodiesel and soap from waste vegetable oil (WVO) collected from campus dining halls in an effort to reduce emissions and promote sustainability on campus. The Student Sustainability Committee initially voted to fund the Illinois Biodiesel Initiative during its 2012-13 funding cycle; however, due IBI being forced out of their old site at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, SSC funding was put on hold. While they wait for their permanent site in the Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory, IBI is currently running scaled-down production in a space in Roger Adams Laboratory.
In addition to the club, the team working on this project found that an education component would be very beneficial to spreading their overarching goals of sustainability across the campus. Because of that, they created a class that students from all disciplines can take and piloted it this semester. The objective of the class competent is to educate students on the project and hopefully increase student and campus involvement in sustainability. I had the opportunity to check out the class earlier this week. I got to see the entire progress that the oil goes through first hand, and it was incredible. The SSC plans to follow up again after they are moved into their permanent location so stay tuned for further progress and innovation updates.
In the meantime, aside from the class, there are several other opportunities to get involved with the initiative and in the club. Students can join any of the four subgroups which include production/testing, Soap (production or research), Finance, and Special Projects. They are always looking for new members from all grade levels.