Joseph M. Perez and the Biodiesel Team
Professor of Chemical Engineering
The Pennsylvania State University
A bio-diesel team was organized in the Chemical Engineering Department in 2004. The primary objective of the Bio-diesel Project is to provide undergraduate students with a real life, hands-on engineering project that focuses on chemical engineering principles. The group, 10 – 12 students, is set up as a small company with a Team Leader (CEO), Research Group, Manufacturing Group and Marketing and Sales Group. The group contains students from each class level to maintain continuity, with the seniors finding their replacements for the following year through an interview process. Last year there were over 2 dozen applicants to replace 3 seniors. This year we have our third group of students running the project. The long term goal of the project is to build a small plant unit large enough to supply the bio-diesel requirements of the University by processing waste cooking oil from the University’s food processing units. The facility would also be a training site for small bio-diesel manufacturers such as individual farmers and farm coops. To date, the students have designed, constructed, and continue to operate a 0.5 liter, 2 liter, and a 25-gallon pilot plant, which are used to study process variables in the production of bio-diesel fuel. In addition to waste cooking oils, virgin plant oils, animal fats, algae, and non-food plant sources are of interest. Research includes development of methods to measure quality, improving low temperature properties and storage stability issues, and exploring new uses for the glycerol byproduct. Collaboration with other departments such as Farm Operations, EHS, Energy Institute and Ag Sciences allows for broad educational experiences.