Cincy Science: Eat fried foods! (In moderation). UC professor & students turn waste oil into energy

CINCINNATI - Ever ask, "What is that?" Or, "Why is that?" In our "Cincy Science" feature, we talk with people who can answer those questions: The folks who do science in Cincinnati and the Tri-State.

About nine years years ago, University of Cincinnati engineering associate professor Ming-ming Lu and her team of students began converting waste cooking oil from the campus dining facilities into biodiesel fuel.

The process turns grease which would have been sent to a landfill into a viable resource.The team's oil extraction reactor system is currently patent-pending as commercially viable green energy technology.

To help us better understand the process behind converting used cooking oil into fuel, Dr. Lu answered our questions.

1. When did you start this process and what gave you the idea?

That was 2005 -2006, we started making waste cooking oil into biodiesel using our cafeterias in the University of Cincinnati, so we tried to get some of their waste oil and make it into biodiesel.

At that time, alternative energy was pretty much starting to get a lot of people’s attention. We had an engineering student who had made biodiesel from the waste cooking oil at her home and used it in her car. She happens to be a student in our department and she helped us along to set up the reactor and showed us a lot about how to get started.

2. What are the uses for biodiesel?

The student who helped guide us uses biodiesel in her Jeep; it burns on diesel. And one of my other students, he bought a diesel car and he works with a biodiesel producer. So he uses the biodiesel they produce. The Metro buses used to use biodiesel years ago, but now they’re a hybrid. Biodiesel can be used to power vehicles and it can be used as heating oil.I think they use it for heating in New York and Massachusetts.

Become a WCPO Insider to read the full Q&A, and learn more about the process of turning waste oil into energy. Plus, see just how the costs of different kinds of fuel stack up.

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