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Chemistry students manufacture biodiesel

May 1, 2009

Three students from the College of Humanities and Natural Sciences at Loyola University New Orleans are receiving a lesson in energy conservation through a project that has them developing biodiesel from used vegetable oil. Chemistry majors Hunter Fontenot, a junior from New Orleans, Michelle Chatelain, a junior from Kenner, and Brian Hays, a junior from Marietta, Ga., have spearheaded the project since the beginning of the spring semester with the help of Joelle Underwood, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemistry.

Fontenot, who originally brainstormed the project, applied for and received the Richard Frank grant through Loyola’s Student Government Association last fall. The grant provided $8,000 in funding for the purchase of equipment that would recycle wasted vegetable oil from Loyola Dining Services, turning it into fuel for diesel engines.

According to Fontenot, the conversion process involves transforming the used oil into biodiesel through a chemical process called trans-etherification, which uses a catalyst called methoxide. The by-product of this reaction is glycerol, which can be used in a variety of ways including making soap and as a compost additive.

The students meet twice a week to make about 30 gallons of biodiesel and 10 gallons of glycerol. According to Chatelain, the students will use the left over glycerol for a future project where they will make soap.

The students have completed successful lab tests on the biodiesel and are beginning to test the fuel in diesel engines. They are currently offering the biodiesel for free to anyone in the Loyola community who has a diesel-powered engine and is willing to participate in the project.

For more information or to schedule an interview with students or faculty, contact Sean Snyder in Loyola’s Office of Public Affairs at smsnyder@loyno.edu or call 504-861-5882.

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