The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

MacCARES plans to convert Café Mac waste into biodiesel

By Zach McDade

As students pursue a variety of environmental initiatives at Macalester, including the installation of green roofs and the college’s purchase of a wind turbine in rural Minnesota, one effort by students—to put Café Mac’s used cooking oil to use—has fallen under the radar.

Madeline Kovacs ’08 and Andrew Meeker ’09, members of the Macalester Conservation and Renewable Energy Society (MacCARES), have secured a generator to convert used Café Mac cooking oil into biodiesel fuel, attracted some campus support for the project, and lined up potential community customers for the biodiesel.

The project is being supported by Macalester’s Clean Energy Revolving Fund, a newly-formed group of students, faculty and administrators dedicated to supporting sustainable energy projects on campus.

One potential snag to the plan is the possible lack of space on campus to house the generator. Facilities Management Director Mark Dickinson said that there is not space for the equipment on campus.

“The space would need to have sprinklers, excellent ventilation or a fume hood, and easy access for transportation of materials,” he said.

MacCARES purchased the generator last spring with $1,200 allocated by Macalester College Student Government. It is still housed with the seller in Minneapolis.

“We are hoping to get enough support from members of the Macalester faculty and staff so that we can work together to secure an on-campus space for the project,” Kovacs said.

Dickinson said that the support for the project exists, specifically from faculty in the Environmental Studies department, even if the logistics have not yet been worked out.

“It is important to recognize that support, and actually installing and getting a biodiesel processor operational, are two very different activities,” Dickinson said.

Additionally, Café Mac General Manager Lori Hartzell promised to donate as much used cooking oil as the students want.

“I think it’s a great idea and a great plan,” she said.

Andrew Meeker ’08 said he hopes that his and Kovacs’s project will further Macalester’s goal of environmental sustainability.

“The plan is to take the oil, convert it into biodiesel and sell it to the community,” he said.

The two students have already successfully filtered a small amount of oil and mixed it with methanol and lye to produce biodiesel fuel comparable to commercial fuel sold at gas stations.

They said they believe they can sell their product for a price slightly higher than commercial biodiesel. Eureka Recycling in St. Paul and Peace Coffee in Minneapolis have expressed interest in a small amount of the fuel for their trucks.

However, Meeker and Kovacs believe that for their project to be economically viable, they would have to sell to residents in the community. They have not yet lined up any buyers.

If the project were to come to fruition, it would recycle a waste product, put renewable fuel into local vehicles and could potentially fund other sustainability projects. It would also save Café Mac the money it pays to dispose of its oil.

“Ideally, if this project got started, it would be cool to cycle out the school’s internal combustion fleet of vehicles and cycle in a biodiesel fleet,” said Meeker.

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