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KU biodiesel researchers welcome bus riders on "green" road trip

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

College-age scholars on a cross-country trek to publicize
environmental challenges and Native American issues stopped at the
University of Kansas on July 10 to meet researchers who are turning
waste vegetable oil into transportation fuel.

The Udall
Legacy Bus Tour was created to honor longtime Arizona congressman and
1976 presidential candidate Morris K. Udall, who was well-known for
advocacy of environmental and Native American concerns.

13 Udall Legacy Bus Tour participants witnessed a demonstration of
biodiesel production by Susan M. Williams, associate professor of
chemical and petroleum engineering, and Ilya Tabakh of the KU
Transportation Research Institute.

The KU team has
assembled technology to transform everyday cooking oils into biodiesel
fuel that should soon power KU buses on the Lawrence campus. The
program, called the KU Biodiesel Initiative, goes beyond what most
other universities have developed, since it approaches research and
production of biodiesel “from feedstock to tailpipe.”

is really neat,” said Jennifer Vazquez, one of the bus riders. “We’ve
toured other biodiesel facilities and this is the most
institutionalized. They provide opportunities to students, but also
they’ve got the whole state and region in mind. It’s cool — it seems
really thorough.”

The KU Biodiesel Initiative integrates
research with refinement of biodiesel in the university’s two new
reactors, which can produce 40 gallons of biodiesel every five days and
operate continuously.

"We have to look at alternatives for
petroleum-based fuel and even ethanol,” said Williams, who is heading
the KU Biodiesel Initiative. “We’re looking at everything from growing
the plant that makes the oil all the way though the production of the
fuel, to using it in an engine, to testing the emissions and impact on
the environment.”

The KU Biodiesel Initiative also will
provide testing services to small-scale biodiesel producers in Kansas
and the surrounding region at costs far below those currently
available. By lowering the steep expense of quality control for
regional biofuel producers, KU hopes to increase area biodiesel
production capacity.

Ranchers and soybean farmers also
could benefit from a regional biodiesel boom, since soybean oil and
tallow are potential feedstock for the biofuel. But the benefits of
biodiesel go beyond a potential boon to the Kansas economy.

is a renewable resource, it’s a domestically produced resource, and
overall it’s better for the environment,” said Williams.

as they crisscross the nation, the Udall Foundation group rides a bus
burning a mix of biodiesel and ultra low sulfur diesel that radically
lowers particulate and nitrogen oxide tailpipe emission — a contributor
to greenhouse gas, smog and acid rain.

"We’ve seen a number
of biofuel initiatives and KU’s is the most sophisticated in terms of
shifting experimental phases into manufacture,” said Eli Zigas, a bus

The seven-week road trip has already brought the
Udall scholars to 15 destinations since the tour kicked off June 12 in
Washington, D.C. The journey ends Aug. 4 in Tucson, Ariz. The Morris K.
Udall Foundation was created by Congress to “increase the awareness of
the importance of, and promote the benefit and enjoyment of, the
nation’s natural resources.”


Brendan M. Lynch

, University Relations, (785) 864-8855.

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