EPA’s People, Prosperity, and Planet program (P3)
Loyola's P3 team presents "From Pollution to Possibility: A Sustainable and Interdisciplinary Solution to Biodiesel Production Wastewater"
The EPA’s People, Prosperity, and Planet program (P3) is a multi-phase grant program that invests in sustainable solutions to environmental problems. This year a team of dedicated Loyola students received P3 phase I funding to conduct research on improving the sustainability of water use in Loyola Biodiesel Production. Five Loyola undergraduates and three staff/faculty mentors presented their research progress this past April in Washington, D. C. as a part of the EPA National Sustainable Design Expo. At the Expo they competed with teams from universities across the country for a $90,000 phase II grant.
With a booming global population and a changing climate threatening to destabilize our already dwindling resources, fresh water scarcity is a major issue. Loyola University Chicago’s Biodiesel Lab combats climate change and reduces its carbon footprint by producing a renewable fuel source from waste vegetable oil. The biodiesel production process, however, creates a byproduct, Biodiesel Wash Water (BWW), that contains methanol, potassium soaps, and Free Fatty Acids (FFAs). This toxic BWW has traditionally been minimally treated and poured down the drain to be dealt with, at high public cost, by waste water treatment plants. This year’s Loyola P3 team has worked on developing sustainable solutions for the treatment of BWW and the recycling of waste streams back into the Biodiesel production process.
- Determine the chemical composition of Loyola's BWW
- Determine methods and design a sustainable system that removes 1) methanol for re-use in biodiesel production, 2) FFA contaminants for reuse or repurposing and 3) Potassium salts that persist in BWW
- Partner with other biodiesel labs to disseminate and make public our findings and technologies
- Teach the Solutions to Environmental Problems (STEP): Water course to Loyola students to expose them to water-related global issues and provide a hands-on, research-based learning experience
- We found that 30% of our BWW consists of methanol, so a distillation unit was designed and built using a repurposed water heater, allowing methanol to be recycled back into the biodiesel process
- BWW has a high pH (~8.5) that makes it corrosive to pipes and hazardous to the environment. We found that bubbling CO2 gas into the BWW effectively neutralizes it and allows us to isolate and filter fatty acid contaminants, which can be reused in the Biodiesel Production process
- Halophytic plant Salicornia bigelovii (Figure 1) was investigated for its salt removal capability due to its tolerance for highly saline environments, ability to take up salts into its tissue, and status as an oilseed crop for potential biodiesel raw-material production
- Create a truly sustainable, zero-waste model of biodiesel production
- Develop and design a device that captures waste CO2 from a biodiesel-powered generator and directly utilizes the gas for BWW acidification
- Design, build, and test a solar-powered methanol recovery unit (SMR)
- Investigate potential uses of FFA waste including use as a feedstock for biogas production
- Build and test a production scale hydroponic desalination system using S. bigelovii for BWW after FFA removal; investigate use of S. bigelovii seed in biodiesel production