Better Biodiesel Lab for Loyola

John Davis

loyola1Loyola University Chicago is giving its biodiesel lab an upgrade. This Biodiesel Magazine story says the school has given students hands-on, real-world, experiential learning in sustainability education for the past five years. But it was time to update the whole lab.

“We were space-constrained, and limited to what we could do in that space,” said [Lab manager Zach] Waickman. The old lab, only 425 square feet, included a crude 2,000 gallon per year (gpy) processor and Waickman’s office space. Inputs like methanol had to be stored elsewhere and carted in, and the lab’s bulk biodiesel storage was also inconveniently located off-site. In the new lab, everything will be fully connected in a 3,000-square-foot space integrating biodiesel production, bulk storage, soap processing, product development, research and testing. “We were in a separate building before, two blocks off campus,” Waickman said. “Now we’ll be in a single building with all the other environmental projects.” The heating and cooling is coupled with the biodiesel generator in the basement, and 90 percent of the heating and cooling needs in the building will come from biodiesel and geothermal. Now, instead of draining glycerin one graduated cylinder at a time, for example, it’ll be piped over to the new methanol distillation apparatus.

Biodiesel Experts International was contracted to provide the lab’s new biodiesel production unit. BEI owner Ernie DeMartino said the unit is a traditional chemical batch system, but all the piping is color-coded for educational purposes, and there are site glasses on all the tanks. The skid-mounted unit also has separate flash evaporation for biodiesel and glycerin. The new system is scaled at 100,000 gpy, but Waickman says his goal is to produce about 30,000 gpy. Feedstock will remain used cooking oil from Loyola, Northwestern University and other area colleges. Most of the fuel produced is sold back to area college shuttle buses, with the rest going to private wholesale by appointment.

Loyola officials say the new instruments will enhance the students’ experiences. The biodiesel lab is also working with many other colleges to help get sustainability programs up on those campuses.