Give what you get: Biodiesel Initiative Club powers university trucks

KBI meets on Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m. biweekly at the Chemistry Biochemistry building, room 209. (Dene Dryden | Collegian Media Group)

The Kansas State Biodiesel Initiative club is using an otherwise wasted resource to make a difference in the environment and community: vegetable oil.

“We are a group of students that go pick up what is called waste vegetable oil from the dining centers on campus,” Molly Smith, president of the club and junior in biological systems engineering, said. “We’ll take that into our lab, and we’ll convert it basically from that to biodiesel.

“Our lab is actually connected to the recycling center, which is what our biodiesel goes to,” she said. “If you see those around campus, that’s partly us powering them.”

The biodiesel is better for the environment because it is a renewable plant source.

“Because our feedstock is a plant, it takes carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Whereas, cars, when they use fuel, they emit carbon dioxide,” Christina Griese, vice president of the biodiesel club and junior in chemical engineering, said.

The students also take methanol from the vegetable oil to create soap which has been sold at the farmer’s market and events for Earth Day, Smith said.

“There is a collaboration event with … American Chemical Society,” Griffin Karr, lead lab manager of KBI and senior in chemical engineering, said. “Next month, we’re going to host a soap workshop. It’s going to be a weekend event where students and members of ACS come to a lab down at the CBC building, and we’re going to teach them how to make soap.”

Karr joined the club as a freshman hoping to gain some experience within the College of Engineering. He appreciated the hands-on experience the club gave him.

“It’s more of you get out whatever you put in,” Karr said. “I’ve enjoyed the freedom of being able to go into the lab and play with pumps and equipment … and I really liked that learning experience.

“I think it is inspiring for students who are looking to see what it’s like to be in this industry… they get a chance to help out and give some oil to do some fun things for students,” Karr said. “I think it’s a cool opportunity for those who want to get into fields that help the environment, or want to do more [with] biofuels when they graduate. It’s a great stepping-stone.”

Karr said the best way to get involved is to join them in the lab and participate in what they’re doing. Griese said their work shows how people can work together, take a little bit from each other and give it right back.

“I think it’s really good that we’re able to take something from the university that that would have just gotten thrown out…and be able to give it back to the university as actual fuel,” Griese said.