Clemson University biodiesel program earns award

By Bryan Sims | November 23, 2011

Since the beginning of the year, students have been hard at work collecting used cooking oils from dining halls and local businesses for the production of methyl esters out of its pilot plant to supply fuel for campus vehicles, landscaping and utility trucks. Their work hasn’t gone unrecognized as the group was recently named the Energy Project of the Year by the Association of South Carolina Energy Managers.

Led by Terry Walker, professor of the biosystems engineering program at Clemson University, and research associate David Thornton, the biodiesel program is part of a larger sustainability initiative.

According to Thornton, the university purchased a turnkey production system from Piedmont Biofuels, which owns and operates a 1.4 MMgy production facility in Pittsboro, N.C., that features a 30-foot trailer where two mobile 60-gallon reactors are capable of producing 90 gallons of biodiesel per week, he said, depending on the amount of feedstock collected and demand for fuel. The reactors are powered by a diesel generator that runs on B100, a centrifuge for separating glycerin, an ion exchange column and some final filters for hitting final specification. Thornton said the team also plumbed the generator to capture waste heat that is then diverted to heat the process.

“We have a pretty elaborate pilot facility,” Thornton, who has strong ties to Piedmont Biofuels, told Biodiesel Magazine. Thornton previously supervised the company’s design/build department before returning to Clemson University as a research associate this year. “It’s built to industrial specification so we have a really nice playground here.”

About 30 equipment and utility vehicles currently run on B20, according to Thornton, which is distributed from a 1,000-gallon fuelling station at the university lumber yard. The goal is to have the vehicles run on B50 in the majority of the vehicles but, “Since a lot of the vehicles were purchased in 2009 we don’t want to overwhelm the sensitive diesel particulate filters in them,” Thornton said.

In total, the team will likely end up collecting about 4,000 gallons of used cooking oils this year, mainly from the food service company on campus ARAMARK, to produce about 3,000 gallons of biodiesel. While the program is capped at a capacity of 3,000 gallons at the moment, Thornton said it intends to expand its collection of used cooking oil from local businesses outside campus.

“Our goal is to hit 10,000 gallons by end of next year, which would be half of the campus’s diesel fuel consumption,” Thornton said. “I think we’ll be happy to sit right there.”


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