June 2005

James Madison University installs large-scale biodiesel reactor on campus

Harrisonburg, VA— James Madison University, which boasts being No. 11 nationally for “great campus food,” and its Fuels Diversification Program will combine forces and fuels by producing its own biodiesel fuel from waste cooking oil collected from campus dining facilities.

Recycling vehicles will be fitted with tanks to collect the kitchen waste oil and deliver it to a large-scale biodiesel reactor that was purchased by JMU in March, said Dr. C.J. Brodrick, program co-director and an assistant professor of integrated science and technology at JMU.

The $4,300 reactor was demonstrated on campus April 22 - the 35th annual Earth Day - for 35 Arlington, Virginia visiting high-school students. Some of the university’s fleet of alternative-fuel vehicles, including some that run on biodiesel, was displayed.

Biodiesel, which can be made from animal fats or vegetable oils, has been powering JMU’s diesel maintenance and grounds vehicles for the past 18 months. What the new reactor produces will supplement the biodiesel JMU now purchases from a local supplier.

James Madison is now taking the next step to produce its own fuel on a larger scale, said Dr. Chris Bachmann, also program co-director and ISAT assistant professor.

The reactor was purchased through a grant from the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy and matching funds from JMU’s Facilities Management department.

Biodiesel is the most widely used alternative fuel at JMU, which has been experimenting with alternative fuels for more than a decade to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, all the more important as Americans struggle with rising fuel prices.

Fourteen months ago, the university purchased a gasoline-electric hybrid Toyota Prius that gets 40 miles to the gallon. Within six months, JMU plans to add two more such hybrids to its fleet of 40 alternative-fuel vehicles, replacing its seven first-generation, electric-only vehicles.

While not needing any gasoline, the electric-only cars must be regularly plugged in and recharged, and, too, their battery packs require replacement after five or six years at a cost of about $5,000 a piece, said Charles McCarty, alternative fuels coordinator at JMU.

Also in JMU’s fleet are seven vehicles that run on gasoline and compressed natural gas. Unlike biodiesel, which is a liquid that can be mixed with regular diesel (though not with gasoline), compressed natural gas must be stored in a pressurized tank, separate from the gasoline. Switches allow the driver to choose between running the car on gasoline or CNG.

For short trips, the cars can run entirely on CNG, said JMU transportation manager Mike Kauffman. For longer trips, gasoline is required - especially as CNG filling stations are few and far between. The CNG cars get about 27 miles per gallon, about the same as gas-only cars.

While the gas-electric hybrid and the electric-only cars are the only vehicles currently saving JMU money at the pump, all the alternative-fuel vehicles have such benefits as longer engine life, reduced maintenance costs and more environmentally friendly emissions.

JMU’s Fuels Diversification Program also trains students. A JMU student-built biodiesel reactor has been under development for several years. Senior Chelsea Jenkins plans to publish a book in the fall on how easy it is to safely produce biodiesel, and graduate student Steve Bantz will be conducting a consumer comparison of commercially available reactors.

—Reprinted with permission from James Madison University Office of Media Relations

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