Stanford University promotes and engages in many sustainable practices, but the sheer amount of waste vegetable oil (WVO) that the school disposes of is one tangible area of opportunity for improvement. Roughly 17,000 gallons of WVO are picked up from Stanford each month for recycling purposes. In addition to sending it off for recycling elsewhere, some of this oil could be used to make biodiesel and provide a cleaner power source for vehicles and equipment dispatched across campus. This study, conducted by the 2017 TomKat Energy Impact Fellows, seeks to explore the university’s resource management practices and to investigate the feasibility of an on-campus waste vegetable oil recycling/biodiesel production plant.
With some initial funding, a biodiesel facility would provide excellent educational value by demonstrating resource recovery and the conversion process of WVO to biodiesel. Its addition to Stanford’s O’Donohue Family Educational Farm would also be complementary to the sustainable systems approach being taught there. In their report, they list numerous scenarios that include community volunteering, usage in on-campus vehicles, and developing cooperative networks with neighboring households or farms that would provide real, feasible applications for biodiesel use if this project were to take place at the Farm. The estimated cost of their project would be around $12,677 and require the ongoing commitment and maintenance of 2-4 man hours per production batch, which would yield 50 gallons of biodiesel over a 48 hour period. Given substantial bureaucracy and barriers surrounding the sale of biodiesel, the facility would likely be operated without profit but could provide cost-savings to existing campus infrastructure and units.
Overall, their research concludes that an on-campus biodiesel production facility would be feasible, and would provide unique educational opportunities for students by supplementing classroom learning through applied real-life sustainability practices. Thus making the most consequential benefit of installing the system its educational value. This payoff, while hard to quantify, should be considered when examining the financial feasibility and monetary investment required for the project.