A New Home for UW Biodiesel Cooperative: Construction of Permanent Lab Space

Executive Summary:

The University of Washington Biodiesel Cooperative is an undergraduate-led registered student organization that was established in 2010 as a way for students to become more involved in waste management and alternative energy through hands-on learning. After losing our lab in 2011 to an incoming professor in the Bioresource Science and Engineering Department, the Cooperative has spent the past three years seeking a permanent lab space. We collaborated with the Chemical Engineering Department to acquire temporary lab space in 2012, and through a CSF grant, were able to perform basic tests on our old biodiesel reactor. From these tests, UW Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) deemed our old reactor unsafe to run indoors without proper ventilation, and required us to narrow our search for space to facilities with chemical fume hoods.

After receiving a unanimous approval and support from ASUW in the form of an initiative to find our group permanent lab space, we contacted vice provosts, deans, department chairs and facilities services to help us in our search. Although we were heavily supported, there simply was not a viable space to support our group. Luckily, in the spring of 2013 we caught a breakthrough with UW Transportation Services and Joshua Kavanagh, who offered an open lot to us on their grounds off 25th Ave, as a part of UW Motor Fleet property. Since this time, we have collaborated with Transportation Services and the Capital Projects office to plan and permit the location with the city for the installation of a retrofitted shipping container laboratory. This new facility will be modeled out of a large shipping container, and will contain a functioning biodiesel reactor that eliminates on-campus waste through the conversion of used cooking oil generated by the campus restaurants into fuel-grade biodiesel. With the financial support of the Campus Sustainability Fund to cover the expense of building, permitting, and supplies, the UW Biodiesel Cooperative will finally be able to make this vision a reality.

When compiled, these costs are substantial, and so we are proposing a request of $89,682 to cover our startup expenses. Approximately $30,000 of this cost will cover the shipping container design and purchase, $20,000 will cover foundation and land preparation and the remaining costs will go to permitting and salaries for architects, inspections and planning services. From a previous grant from the CSF in 2012, we were able to quantitatively justify our need for a professional biodiesel reactor though vapor characterization, and from this, gained the support of the College of Engineering, as well as a sponsorship of $8,000 to go towards the purchase of a new biodiesel reactor. Additionally, the lot for our new lab saves us a significant operational costs, as Transportation Services has allowed us to occupy the space rent-free.

The website for UW Biodiesel is http://students.washington.edu/biofuel/, and current officers can be found and contacted through the officers/contact tab.

Student Involvement:

The cooperative provides University of Washington students with the unique opportunity to combine green energy management with engineering innovation. Built and driven entirely by undergraduates, the group promotes interest and education in the field of green energy engineering by engaging students in a rich learning experience. All members proactively meet on a regular basis throughout the school year and engage in activities that prepare them for future careers in the green energy field such as running diagnostic tests, designing processes from the ground up, applying for funds and grants from outside institutions, running tests to ensure that the product is safe, and paying attention to the economics of their process so that it is financially sustainable.

Currently, the new lab space project project involves the all the Biodiesel Cooperative, composed of an executive committee of six people, with around 10 general members. Each member’s involvement is voluntary, and Cooperative members belong to varying disciplines inside the University of Washington. Membership is predicted to increase based on student response from Dawg Daze promotions and attendance at general meetings, however current positions have been limited due to our lack of physical lab space. With a new lab in place, membership, research and managerial roles are also expected to increase to provide more opportunities for student involvement. The current responsibilities of each executive committee member are described below.

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) is the face of the organization. It is the job of the CEO to manage the financials of the Cooperative, act as a mentor to the general members and maintain responsibility for the overall direction of the Cooperative as a whole.

The Chief Operations Officer (COO) is in charge of administering all committee meetings. Every week, the various members of the executive committee congregate to report on the events of the previous week, discuss next steps, and assign action items. The COO is also responsible for connecting the engineering and logistics divisions, and performing interior management whenever necessary in order to keep the Cooperative organized.

The Internal Chief Relations Officer (CRO-I) is responsible for managing all connections within the University. This person maintains communications between HFS, Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S), Capital Projects, ASUW, and all other UW organizations that are involved in the welfare of the Cooperative. The CRO-I co-leads the logistics department along with the CRO Ambassador.

The Ambassador Chief Relations Officer (CRO-A) is responsible for managing connections outside of the University. This includes a variety of organizations, from biodiesel companies and fuel distributors, to high school classrooms and even other universities. The CRO-A co-leads the logistics department along with the CRO-I, and is also responsible for all public outreach and education endeavors.

The Chief Technical Officer (CTO) is responsible for managing all of the engineering divisions of the Cooperative. This person performs strategic technical management, makes long term decisions for lab work and manages engineering agendas, suggesting next steps for the engineering teams to pursue. The CTO works closely with the Lab Director to ensure that teams follow proper safety procedures.

The Lab Director (LD) provides tactical management within the lab. This person manages the day-to-day operations in the lab, including reviewing Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to guarantee safety, communicating with EH&S about safety precautions, and monitoring the chemical inventory of the lab.

Despite the responsibilities of the executive committee members, the heart of the Biodiesel Cooperative lies in the education and participation of the undergraduate students that make up its general membership. These general members help with day-to-day task and operations, and often accompany more experienced members on outreach trips and presentations to local high schools. In addition, all general members work closely with one or more executive committee members on their personal group responsibilities, and provide essential footwork and fresh ideas to the group as a whole.

Establishing a working biodiesel facility on a college campus is not an impossible task; several successful biodiesel cooperatives currently exist on college campuses across the country. However, many attempts at establishing them in other universities have failed, primarily because the students who were involved with it end up graduating and new students do not emerge to take their place. The UW Biodiesel Cooperative aims to avoid this problem by focusing their efforts on green engineering education, and encouraging the growth of new students within as a means to provide a sustainable organization that prepares students for careers in the green energy industry. Additionally, our small group mentorship strategy ensures new members are properly trained and qualified to replace their predecessors. As a testament to this, despite all of the original founding members of the Cooperative having graduated in 2012, the amount of involvement in the Cooperative is very strong and growing, and this interest will grow even further once a fully operational lab space has been constructed. The Biodiesel Cooperative is a unique opportunity for undergraduate students, as it provides a glimpse at what a career in the engineering field is like, specifically that of renewable energy. By supporting the UW Biodiesel Cooperative, the Campus Sustainability Fund can help make a tangible difference by educating future leaders in sustainable engineering and equipping future young students with the skills they need to succeed in their careers.

Education & Outreach:

The Biodiesel Cooperative will enrich the community by providing education about the biodiesel industry and using waste vegetable oil as an alternative fuel source. In the past, the Cooperative has presented to local high school science classrooms about the benefits of using biodiesel, and has reached out to local community colleges to provide a collaborative effort in alternative energy education. However the ultimate goal of the Cooperative focuses on education on campus by providing opportunities for undergraduates to gain hands-on laboratory production and research experience. In particular, the Cooperative works hard to incorporate pre-engineering freshman and sophomores in laboratory and process design though small group meetings and lectures with older and more experienced students. This sets up a natural mentorship system, and provides sustainability in the program, with older and veteran students providing guidance and education to younger students, who will quickly grow to be the new leaders.

Since the cooperative has been without a home for the past few years, the opportunities for new members to gain wet lab experiences has been limited, and new memebers have primarily worked with logistics by collaborating with university leaders, and in theoretical process design of quality control testing. With the constuction a new lab space, the cooperative can take in more students and provide them with an overall more comprehensive engineering experience.

After acquiring lab space, a main objective of this organization will be to spread our operational model to universities across the nation and around the world. The Cooperative’s finalized standard operation procedures will published freely to be used as a reference and model for other groups and universities, where the implementation of student run Cooperatives may be a difficult endeavor.

The Cooperative plans to advertise their mission in a variety of ways. In addition to our physical lab space, there have been talks with Housing and Food Services about potentially buying a vehicle that can run B100 (a fuel blend of 100% biodiesel) and advertising it with the Biodiesel Cooperative logo to display the use of locally produced fuel in action. The Biodiesel Cooperative also has been consistently present at many student activities events including Dawg Daze, the Engineering Societies Fair and Engineering Discovery Days, where we recruit a majority of our diverse membership base.

Environmental Impact:
  • Energy Use
  • Transportation
  • Waste
Project Longevity:

Environmental Problem:

Currently, University of Washington Housing and Food Services (HFS) sells their used cooking oil to the alternative energy company, Sequential Pacific Biodiesel, which transports the oil from Seattle to Portland, Oregon to be refined into biodiesel. This fuel is then transported back to Seattle to be sold on the market. The transportation involved in this process typically uses petroleum diesel, detracting from the purpose of producing the biodiesel in the first place and increasing greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere.

The UW Biodiesel Cooperative offers an alternative to this production method through the establishment of a closed loop system, in which the waste that is generated from on-campus restaurants is refined on site and sold back to the campus community to be reused in transportation vehicles and other engines as an alternative to petroleum based diesel fuel.

Supporting the UW Biodiesel Cooperative will achieve the goals of the Campus Sustainability Fund by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, transitioning away from petroleum diesel and educating the community about the field of green energy research. The use of biodiesel relieves the environmental impact of fossil fuels on the University of Washington and the community as a whole by reducing carbon emissions, reducing fossil fuel use, and recycling waste oil into a useful resource. We aspire to increase recycling efforts on campus by reducing reliance on pollution-generating modes of transportation.  Biodiesel emits 78% less greenhouse gases than diesel fuel. According to the EPA, combustion of biodiesel additionally provides a 56% reduction of hydrocarbon emissions and shows a significant reduction in carbon monoxide when compared with conventional diesel fuel bringing the University of Washington one step closer to its goal of being carbon neutral.

Explain how the impacts will be measured:

Although the yield of biodiesel from the refining process may vary, a typical yield from waste cooking oil is 75%. Therefore one gallon of biodiesel will be produced for every 1.33 gallons of waste cooking oil. Additionally, the US Energy Information Administration estimates 22.38 pounds of CO2 are emitted from burning one gallon of petroleum diesel fuel. In comparison, B-100, or 100% biodiesel, contains many less impurities and only produces 4.92 pounds of CO2 per gallon. That means for every gallon of biodiesel that is produced and used in campus engines, the Cooperative will have diverted 1.33 gallons of waste oil and prevented approximately 17.5 pounds of CO2 from entering the atmosphere. Because we will be producing biodiesel locally, additional emissions from the transportation of the cooking oil and biodiesel fuel to and from Portland, Oregon will be eliminated.

The amount of waste cooking oil that HFS produces is roughly 3,000 gallons per year. Assuming the previously mentioned yield of 75%, we can initially produce 2,250 gallons of biodiesel in a given academic year. Using all fuel in campus engines, can save the University up to 40,000 pounds of emitted CO2 per year and significantly reduce the University’s carbon footprint. Once this has been successfully executed for a couple of years, we will expand our collection base to other university district sources and scale up our facility, with the overall goal of helping the University of Washington take a large step towards being carbon neutral.

Total amount requested from the CSF: $89,682
This funding request is a: Grant
If this is a loan, what is the estimated payback period?:


ItemCost per ItemQuantityTotal Cost
Equipment & Construction
Publicity & Communications
Personnel & Wages
General Supplies & Other

Non-CSF Sources:

College of Engineering8000
Project Completion Total: $97,682


TaskTimeframeEstimated Completion Date
Finalize Permit Information with the City of Seattle2 months30-Apr-14
Finalize Shipping Container Design1 month1-Mar-14
Accquire Quote and Purchase Reactor1 month1-Jul-14
Purchase Container and Install on Facility4 months1-Aug-14
Purchase all additional lab equiptment1.5 months1-Sep-14
Produce First Batch of Biodiesel2 days15-Sep-14
Run First Quality Tests on Produced Fuel3 month1-Mar-15
Sell First Batch of Fuel1 month1-Jun-15