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UWRF agricultural engineering continues progress in biodiesel research

October 16, 2008

Research done by students in the UW- River Falls agriculture engineering department has yielded progress in biodiesel fuel development on campus that is being used in campus machinery.

The department continues its current series of student projects that focus on using used vegetable oil from the University Center to process biodiesel. The biodiesel is then used to fuel the machinery at the campus lab farm.

Dean Olson, associate professor of agriculture engineering, said that a lot of progress has been made in this past year. Last year, the department received a $25,000 grant from the UWRF Foundation for its work with biodiesel. Progress has also been made in terms of planning, experimentation and testing that is done primarily by the students Olson advises.

“They do the brainstorming as to what needs to be done,” he said. “The students take general education skills and apply them to the project.”

The question of efficiency for this fuel has more than one aspect to consider and does not have a simple answer. It is better for the environment, but it gets less miles to the gallon only because it has less energy per gallon compared to regular diesel, Olsen said.

“Biodiesel has less energy per gallon,” he said.

Bill Connolly, director of the UWRF campus lab farms, spoke of one tractor that had been fueled using biodiesel.

“I didn’t notice any difference,” he said. “It ran beautifully.”

Connolly also said that from appearances, the tractor got “just as much horsepower as before.”

The right blend of biodiesel could be used in any vehicle with an internal combustion engine. The main disadvantage of biodiesel is that temperatures during the winter months cause the biodiesel to gel.

The research and experiments of the biodiesel projects take place in the multidisciplinary course Agriculture, Food and Environmental Science (AFES 492). In this course, Olson advises students who choose the specific project they want to take part in based on their own individual ability.

Most of the students in classes like these are majoring in agriculture, but it is possible for students from other fields to register for AFES 492. Olson spoke of a past section of the class in which students were teamed up with other students from different fields who worked together to solve problems.

“We get a mixture of teams so that we have an agricultural person working with a sociologist working with an economist to simulate kind of real life conditions,” Olson said.

Melissa Ploeckelman is a senior who is majoring in agricultural education. She said she found out about the biodiesel research when classes began this semester. She is in the class and is part of a group that decided to form a public relations team to represent biodiesel fuel advancement. The work that Ploeckelman and other students are doing adds to the environmental advantage of biodiesel development.

“We’re using the biodiesel with the lawn mowers and the tractors and stuff like that already so we’re already in the process of going green,” she said. “That we can take it from the campus and continue using it for the campus, I think that’s really neat.”