UC Team Wins Phase 2 of EPA Funding at National Sustainable Design Expo

By: Ashley Duvelius
May 10, 2012

University of Cincinnati’s Mingming Lu, associate professor of engineering, and her team of students competed in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Sustainable Design Expo contest titled “P3: People, Prosperity and the Planet Student Design Competition for Sustainability.”

uc biodiesel team

The team converting fryer fat to fuel includes, from left, UC grad Ming Chai, now with Bluegrass Biodiesel; UC students Jingjing Wang and Mark Schutte; UC faculty Mingming Lu; UC student Qingshi Tu; and Ting Lu of the Metropolitan Sewer District.

The expo was held on Earth Day weekend, April 21 and 22 at the National Mall of Washington, D.C.  For the student contest, teams were to showcase innovative solutions to environmental problems in an effort to win EPA funding worth up to $90,000. At the expo, the projects were judged by a panel of experts. A few teams, UC being one of them, were selected for phase 2 grants up to $90,000 for students to improve their designs, implement them in the field, or move them to the marketplace. They competed against 44 other U.S. colleges and universities, including Cornell, Princeton and Vanderbilt universities.

Since 2007, Lu and her team of students have collected about 35 gallons of waste fryer fat per month from campus eateries. They routinely cleaned and treated the waste cooking oil, at a cost of about $1.35 per gallon, to make biodiesel fuel. In late 2009, after appropriate testing and EPA approval, Lu partnered with UC’s power plant to use this biodiesel fuel for campus power generation. The team’s biodiesel fuel produced enough energy to sustain the electricity needs of four to five residence-hall rooms for a year.

The team has been working with its local partners, Bluegrass Biodiesel and the Cincinnati Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD), to develop a community-scale biodiesel production system to convert trap grease that’s collected from sewers to convert to biodiesel fuel.

biodiesel converter

Part of the apparatus at UC's power plant used to convert fryer fat to biodiesel.

The team’s presentation was titled “Community Based Biodiesel Production from Trap Grease: The Evaluation of Technical and Economic Feasibilities.” As presented to the EPA, their project objective is to work with MSD in the development of both value added and environmentally friendly uses of trap grease as biodiesel fuel.

Trap grease (also called brown grease) is considered a burden to the grease trap owners and the end receptors due to its high cost of disposal. It is an environmental nuisance to the public and usually ends up in a landfill. Trap grease in MSD comes from the skimmers of the primary settling tanks as well as restaurant and residential grease traps emptied by professional pumpers.

With this EPA funding, $15,000, Lu would like to push forward to include pilot demonstrations and setting up a pretreatment system with the team’s partners beginning with a 100-gallon pilot facility.

It’s efforts like this team’s that keep UC on the “Top Green School” charts nationwide.

biodiesel team 2

UC Team accepting Phase 2 of EPA Funding.