CU Students Commit To Using Biodiesel On 2,500-mile Trip To Solar Decathlon

Published: Sept. 12, 2005

As part of their "low- to no-petroleum" pledge for the 2005 Solar Decathlon competition, University of Colorado students are getting ready to transport their solar home to Washington, D.C., this month using 100 percent biodiesel fuel made from vegetable oil.

The 800-square-foot solar home, which is now in the final week of construction, is scheduled to begin its cross-country journey Sept. 21 and will arrive in the nation's capital Sept. 29.

CU is the defending champion of the 2002 Solar Decathlon and one of 18 universities slated to compete in this year's event sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. The Oct. 7-16 competition on the National Mall challenges students to design and build the most attractive, efficient and comfortable solar home, while educating the public about alternative energy technologies.

CU's solar home, which has been under construction in Louisville since June, will be driven to Washington, D.C., on a circuitous, 2,500-mile route to avoid bridges lower than its 15-foot, 8-inch traveling height. The planned route goes through Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee and Virginia, and includes both highways and two-lane county roads.

Navigating the 60-foot-long, 14.5-foot-wide chassis on such a convoluted route takes extensive planning. A pilot car company has pre-driven the route to make sure it meets traveling needs.

Student project manager Jeff Lyng said the team has become increasingly excited as the competition date nears. "As we get closer to the interior finishes and the commissioning process, the level of excitement has grown incredibly," he said.

The project is a two-year effort involving students from the College of Architecture and Planning and the College of Engineering and Applied Science, with Professors Julee Herdt of architecture and Michael Brandemuehl of engineering serving as faculty advisers.

The team is touting its solar home as one you can "sink your teeth into," referring to the many finishes that are made from agricultural products like corn, wheat, soy, flax and linseed. The team plans to serve up food during the competition derived from the very same products, and members of the CU Biodiesel student organization plan to give a biodiesel demonstration on the National Mall.

"These are things the CU team wants to do above and beyond the competition requirements," Lyng said. "We want to put our money where our mouth is on our low- to no-petroleum pledge."

Other special features of the CU home include patent-pending structural insulated panels containing bio-based foam (called Bio-SIPs) and a retractable roof, which will allow for a lower traveling height as the home is driven across the country. When the CU home arrives on the National Mall, the roof will be raised 2 feet to create a cathedral ceiling and allow for added daytime lighting.

"We want to educate the public when we are in D.C., and back here in Colorado, that solar homes like this are not something to look forward to 10, 20 or 50 years down the road. They are possible today," Lyng said. "We need only to take a critical look at our core values as a society to realize that building homes like this one is the right thing to do."

For more information on the CU solar home, or to follow the Solar Decathlon competition online, go to