Reduction of Use of Petroleum Energy Resources by Conversion of Waste Cooking Oils into Diesel Fuel

EPA Grant Number: SU831885
Title: Reduction of Use of Petroleum Energy Resources by Conversion of Waste Cooking Oils into Diesel Fuel
Investigators: Perez, J. M. , Lloyd, W. A. , Nedwick, R.
Institution: Pennsylvania State University
EPA Project Officer: Nolt-Helms, Cynthia
Phase: I
Project Period: September 30, 2004 through May 31, 2005
Project Amount: $10,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2004) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Nanotechnology , P3 Challenge Area - Energy , Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Awards , Sustainability


This project has a dual objective of providing hands-on experience to undergraduate engineering students and producing biodiesel fuel from a used cooking oil feedstock. The project consists of three phases: Phase I - process development and construction of a pilot plant; Phase 2 - engine performance and emission reduction studies; and Phase 3 - commercialization of a self sustaining facility for some 200 pieces of campus equipment currently fueled with petroleum diesel fuel. Twelve students are involved in the project for elective and design credit. They are divided into three groups: research and development, manufacturing, and business groups.


Biodiesel is an alkyl ester similar in energy content to petro-diesel but more sustainable and environmentally friendly. Biodiesel reduces diesel engine out emissions of potentially carcinogenic particulate matter as defined by EPA. Our preliminary evaluations have shown a 25% particulate reduction. The project goal is to develop an alternative energy source to fossil fuels and produce a fuel which is made from a renewable source-used cooking oils. Initially, our pilot plant will be a batch process, but the research group will attempt to design an innovative continuous process. The project has available to it several hundred gallons of used cooking oil per week from nine campus sites and several local restaurants. The research ultimately will lead to more efficient conversion of used cooking oil to biodiesel that will give farmers, truckers, and diesel automobile owners a cleaner burning alternative to petro-diesel. The project has a long range goal of converting the campus green.


Samples of feedstock will be obtained from local sources for experimentation. The samples vary in the type of vegetable oil: corn, peanut, soybean, and canola oil. To carry out this project, small-scale experiments will be conducted in a bench scale mixer to examine product yield, product quality, and potential problems. Next, a pilot plant will be designed and constructed to convert the used cooking oil to a 20–30 gallon scale. A base-catalyzed process has been chosen for simplicity and reliability. To insure the biodiesel fuel meets ASTM specifications, gas chromatography, infrared, mass spectrometry, viscosity, density, and flash point analyses will be used. Phase II of the project will involve evaluation of the product in laboratory diesel engines in the Combustion Laboratory in our Energy Institute, Fuel Science Department. Phase III will involve commercialization.

The research group will develop a high yield process for use in the pilot plant. The process will produce a biodiesel fuel that meets current ASTM biodiesel fuel specification. The group will also explore uses for the glycerin byproduct. A primary goal of the research group is to establish the safety procedures for the process. Ideas for a continuous process will be explored.

The manufacturing group will obtain “factory” space, design and construct the pilot plant. The pilot plant will be tested and safety checked prior to processing the first 20 gallon batch of used cooking oils.

Expected Results:

The business group will obtain information on local sources of used cooking oils and advertise the biodiesel fuel produced. Costs of production, global climate effects, energy use cycle, emissions and energy savings will be calculated. The results will show how the use of biodiesel fuel leads to a cleaner environment and a sustainable fuel source.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 3 publications for this project

Journal Articles:

Journal Articles have been submitted on this project: View all 1 journal articles for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

global climate, green chemistry, clean technologies, innovative technologies, manufacturing, conservation, transportation, waste reduction, agriculture, engineering, RFA, Scientific Discipline, INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION, TREATMENT/CONTROL, Sustainable Industry/Business, POLLUTION PREVENTION, cleaner production/pollution prevention, Energy, Environmental Chemistry, Sustainable Environment, Technology, Technology for Sustainable Environment, Chemicals Management, Environmental Engineering, energy conservation, waste cooking oils, waste to fuel conversion, alternative to petroleum diesel fuel, renewable fuel production, emission controls, energy efficiency, biodiesel fuel, waste cooking oil, ethanol, biotechnology, alternative fuel, alternative energy source, environmentally benign alternative, biofuel, green chemistry, renewable energy

Relevant Websites:

Project Description

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report