CU-Boulder Students Join With CU Departments To Launch Biodiesel Buff Bus

Published: March 19, 2003

The University of Colorado at Boulder on April 2 will begin running one of its student "Buff" buses on 100 percent biodiesel fuel, an alternative fuel made from used cooking oil that will be collected from residence halls and other kitchens on campus.

The demonstration project, led by engineering student Andrew Azman with support from the CU Environmental Center, will make CU-Boulder the second campus in the nation to power part of its fleet with 100 percent biodiesel. The University of Montana was the first.

Biodiesel is better for the environment because it is made from renewable resources and has lower emissions compared to petroleum diesel, according to the National Biodiesel Board, a trade association representing the biodiesel industry.

Azman, who is a junior in civil and environmental engineering, designed and built a processor to convert vegetable oil into fuel-grade biodiesel as a project for a class in sustainable engineering design last fall. The processor removes the glycerin from vegetable oil, thereby decreasing its viscosity through a chemical process called transesterification.

He also formed a student group, CU Biodiesel, which will collect and recycle vegetable oil from the Housing Department and the University Memorial Center on campus to use as the raw material.

CU's biodiesel bus, which some people have been calling the "french fry bus" until it is officially named, will debut at the Bicycle Bash Featuring Buff Bus Biodiesel on April 2 at the UMC fountain area.

The Environmental Center has been running a contest to name the bus and create a logo or slogan for it. The new name and logo will be unveiled at noon during the bash. The bash will run from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and additional vehicles running on biodiesel also will be displayed at the event.

The biodiesel bus began making runs around campus and to Williams Village last week using a percentage of biodiesel fuel, according to Bryan Flansburg of CU Transportation Services. Over a few weeks' time the bus will transition to 100 percent biodiesel, a simple conversion that requires no engine modification.

Tests will be done to evaluate bus emissions, fuel economy, cost per mile and engine wear as a result of the change to biodiesel fuel.

Ultimately, students hope to see CU-Boulder convert its entire fleet to biodiesel, although that could require buying the alternative fuel commercially at a higher cost than standard diesel fuel. Cindy Rosenberg, a graduate student working at the Environmental Center, is helping to evaluate costs and other issues related to processing biodiesel on campus.

The Environmental Center and Boulder Biodiesel, a local group, are funding the demonstration project as a test of the technology, and Azman is sponsoring a student referendum to create a student biodiesel fee to support the project on a long-term basis.