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Encouraging Students To Eat French Fries? Lessons Learned From Student Sustainability Projects

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Sustainable-energy Education: Lessons Learned

Tagged Division

Energy Conversion and Conservation

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.532.1 - 14.532.18

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Paper Authors


Sharon deMonsabert George Mason University

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Dr. deMonsabert is an Associate Professor of Civil, Environmental and Infrastructure Engineering. She has over 15 years of academic experience. She researches and teaches courses related to Sustainable Development, Environmental Systems and Engineering, and Technical Entrepreneurship. Dr. deMonsabert was recently appointed to the position of Fellow for Academic Curricula at George Mason University.

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Jeremy Jessup George Mason University

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Mr. Jessup received his Bachelor of Science Degree in Civil and Infrastucture Engineering in 2008. He is currently a graduate student focused on environmental engineering. He received a grant to study the incorporation of biodiesel as a sustainable fuel alternative at GMU. He received the faculty appreciation award for academic excellence in 2008. He has accepted employment with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and will be working on hydropower projects.

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Lenna Storm George Mason University

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Ms. Storm is the Susainability Coordinator at George Mason University. She is currently pursuing her MS degree in Environmental Science and Policy from GMU. Ms. Storm is researching the adoption of green roofs on college campuses. She is an active member of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Encouraging Students to Eat French Fries?

Lessons learned from student sustainability projects


George Mason University (GMU) is one of approximately 500 universities that have endorsed the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) which promises to reduce carbon emissions. As a part of this challenge, GMU is undertaking many steps to decrease its footprint including the production and use of biodiesel. As a student engineering project, biodiesel generation on the Fairfax, VA campus was investigated. Biodiesel is an alternative fuel source that has environmental benefits; most notably vegetable-based biodiesel reduces unburned hydrocarbons by 67%, carbon monoxide by 48% and particulate matter by 47% as compared with petroleum-based diesel. These environmental benefits fueled student exploration of the possibility of producing biodiesel from waste cooking oil. The process to generate biodiesel results in a fuel price per gallon that is significantly lower than conventional diesel in the current market. This per gallon savings contributes to a short capital cost payback period for biodiesel installation. Student calculations showed annual savings in the range of $13,000 with an estimated payback of around two months. If the development of biodiesel on campus was purely an economic or environmental issue, the decision would be simple. Unfortunately, the production and use of biodiesel is accompanied by many obstacles that are often overlooked by students. Some of these obstacles are legitimate concerns while others represent simple misconceptions. Safety considerations from the handling of hazardous materials, Federal and State regulations, outsourcing alternatives for biodiesel processing equipment, personnel resource limitations, vehicle maintenance concerns, selecting and locating an appropriate facility to house the system, and numerous other concerns were encountered in the student project. These topics are often presented in the classroom but not fully appreciated by students until they face them as real obstacles to a successful project completion. This paper explores the learning opportunities presented by the GMU biodiesel project including an improved understanding of adoption barriers of innovative sustainable solutions and the difficulties in obtaining reliable engineering data for analysis of new technologies.

What is Biodiesel?

Biodiesel is an alternative to diesel made from renewable, biological sources, instead of petroleum8. The sources of biodiesel include vegetable oils, animal fats, and recycled cooking oil. The most common technique used to produce biodiesel is transesterification. Transesterification occurs when a fat or oil is purified and then reacted with alcohol in a presence of a catalyst. Methanol and ethanol are the two most common alcohols used for this process while potassium hydroxide and sodium hydroxide are commonly used as the catalyst8. This

deMonsabert, S., & Jessup, J., & Storm, L. (2009, June), Encouraging Students To Eat French Fries? Lessons Learned From Student Sustainability Projects Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas.

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