By: Ashley Duvelius
Qingshi Tu, graduate student and member of the 2013 Ohio Clean Energy Challenge finalist UC Team Effuelent, was recently awarded a Next Generation Scientists for Biodiesel (NGSB) scholarship for his knowledge, passion, and research/career interests in biofuels. Tu was one of only 16 collegiate students across the country to have been selected to attend, with all expenses paid, the 2013 National Biodiesel Conference & Expo in Las Vegas, Nevada from February 4-7. At the conference, Tu presented a poster on his biofuel research titled, “Application of waste coffee grounds in biodiesel production steps: A preliminary study.”
Current and future researchers alike are teaming up to focus on one common goal: to lead America’s energy efforts. The next generation of scientists have put biodiesel, US’ only commercially available advanced biofuel (a safer alternative to regular gasoline as it is made from vegetable oils and animal fats), in front and center. Qingshi Tu, graduate student and member of the 2013 Ohio Clean Energy Challenge finalist UC Team Effuelent, was recently awarded a Next Generation Scientists for Biodiesel (NGSB) scholarship for his knowledge, passion, and research/career interests in biofuels. Tu was one of only 16 collegiate students across the country to have been selected to attend, with all expenses paid, the 2013 National Biodiesel Conference & Expo in Las Vegas, Nevada from February 4-7. At the conference, Tu presented a poster on his biofuel research titled, “Application of waste coffee grounds in biodiesel production steps: A preliminary study.”
Tu has been working with biofuel since he first came to UC—he helped make biodiesel from waste cooking oil that he and other students collected from on-campus dining facilities. Later, the environmental engineering major became involved in a project investigating the impact of biodiesel production on water resources, which triggered his interest in improving the sustainability of biodiesel production, specifically by reusing waste-derived materials. Tu delved deep into biodiesel research when he joined UC Team Effuelent, a 2013 Ohio Clean Energy Challenge finalist team who were tasked with developing a clean energy student business plan.
Team Effuelent used technology developed by Professor Mingming Lu, PhD and associate professor at CEAS School of Energy, Environmental, Biological and Medical Engineering, which converts waste trap grease (consisting of fat oils and greases extracted from wastewater) into usable biodiesel fuel. Effuelent’s patent-pending Waste Grease Extraction (WGE) process creates a biodiesel product using a problematic waste stream as a resource, lowering landfill costs for wastewater treatment plants and generating a marketable product. Effuelent’s WGE process will have a positive environmental, economic, and energy impact.
Team Effuelent discovered their market by looking for alternate sources of biodiesel production. They’ve been collaborating with the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati (MSD) to solidify their process.
Tu continues this biodiesel research by focusing on the “Application of waste coffee grounds in biodiesel production steps: A preliminary study.” He explains, “The idea of this research is to recycle the waste coffee grounds and use them for: 1) oil extraction (as feedstock for biodiesel production), 2) crude biodiesel purification (after-extraction grounds as purification material) and 3) energy generation (by burning the grounds after purification).”
By using waste-derived materials, not only are production costs reduced but it also improves the sustainability of biodiesel production by minimizing the carbon footprints in water and land resources. For example, waste coffee grounds can be obtained at a much lower cost, as compared with soybean oil, while eliminating the irrigation water consumption and land use required for growing oil-crops.
Tu hopes that this affordable biodiesel will soon be more readily available in our daily life. Accompanying this availability is the improved air quality and better health condition for people everywhere. Therefore, this fuel benefits both the biodiesel industry and the average person’s living environment.
Tu reflects, “The NGSB student poster section offered a perfect opportunity for me to share my research, and more importantly, listen to the motivating thoughts of others, helping me to take my research a notch higher. Speaking with industry practitioners enabled me to learn the current technology updates and issues in the biodiesel industry, inspiring the research development for my PhD study.
Also, networking with people from industry allowed me to nail down what area of the biodiesel industry I will pursue for my future career development after graduation. My horizon was vastly broadened by attending various sessions to listen to the experts sharing their take on every integral piece of the biodiesel industry.”
Tu moves forward in his research with plans to: 1) optimize the operational parameters of oil extraction and biodiesel production step, 2) improve the performance of after-extraction waste coffee grounds as purification materials for crude biodiesel, and 3) combustion test waste coffee grounds (after purification step) to obtain the data on heat and electricity generation as well as the emission profile.
Since Tu’s research resides in a broad domain of utilizing waste-derived materials for biodiesel production, waste coffee grounds remains his primary focus. Yet, he also plans to continue his investigation of converting trap grease into biodiesel.
The revolutionary research efforts of Tu and environmental engineers everywhere will soon be leaving their “footprints” as they will undoubtedly bring us into a world of affordable and clean-burning fuels.
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