An Ecosystem Built on Used Cooking Oil: Loyola’s Biodiesel Lab

Post by Zach Waickman, Biodiesel Lab Manager at Loyola University’s Institute of Environmental Sustainability. This post is Part 1 of a series on Loyola’s highly localized circular economy built on used cooking oil.

The Searle Biodiesel Lab in the Institute of Environmental Sustainability (IES) at Loyola University Chicago is an undergraduate-focused initiative that encompasses both a small business and numerous research projects. The main goal of the lab is to research, develop, and operate zero waste processes that utilize campus waste products to create sustainable solutions. This endeavor started in the course Solutions to Environmental Problems (STEP) in 2007 and has been built on the coursework, research, and dedication of undergraduate students in IES. STEP has since moved on to other topics, but the groundwork for the Searle Biodiesel Lab was well laid ten years ago (Annual Report: 10 years of STEP).

The staff, affiliated faculty, and students in the Searle Biodiesel Lab have worked to create a dynamic, zero waste biodiesel production process. This has led us into a myriad of research areas such as personal care products, anaerobic digestion, and algae cultivation. Our Biodiesel Production System Diagram outlines how products flow through the lab, starting as used cooking oil from deep fryers and ending up as numerous products that are sold out of the Searle Biodiesel Lab.

Inputs, processes, and products at the Searle Biodiesel Lab
Inputs, processes, and products at the Searle Biodiesel Lab

While we have made great progress over the past 10 years, we have a lot more work to do. Being an education program within a university affords us many advantages, but we also rely on partner organizations to further advance and implement some of this work: our oil collection network is run by Green Grease Environmental, anaerobic digestion research is in conjunction with Bubbly Dynamics at The Plant, and our numerous customers work closely with the program to implement these sustainable solutions. Our latest innovation is a Mobile Biodiesel Processor (MBP) – a small transportable unit capable of processing used cooking oil into usable biodiesel (prototype pictured above). Look out for a followup blog post, which will present our MBP Build Guide – instructions for making a processor of your own!

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