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Chemical Engineering Students Develop a “Greener” Clean

Villanova University engineering students have been converting used cooking oil from dining services into biodiesel fuel for University grounds equipment for several years now. This year, the students wanted to take it one step further...

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Villanova University engineering students have been converting used cooking oil from dining services into biodiesel fuel for University grounds equipment for several years now. This year, the students wanted to take it one step further. What could be done with the leftover glycerin from the oil to fuel conversion? Could the process be made even “greener”? After extensive research, the students hit upon a clever solution: sustainable soap.

"Instead of disposing of the glycerol after it has been separated from the dirty biodiesel, we extend its product lifespan by using it to make something that everyone needs," said Adam Hoffman, the Villanova graduate student who leads the project.

The College of Engineering uses the soap to clean lab equipment, as hand soap in bathrooms and as a popular giveaway at conferences and student candidate visits. They are currently investigating the possibility of increasing production for distribution outside the University.

“We must train our students to think about the big picture and think of ways of reducing our energy usage, raw material consumption and energy demands,” said Dr. Randy Weinstein, Director of the Villanova Master’s Program in Sustainable Engineering.

Scented with essential oils, the soap is considered a cosmetic rather than a detergent by FDA standards because of its glycerol base. It lathers, suds, cleans and leaves hands feeling silky smooth, while making a positive contribution towards campus sustainability.

The entire process can take up to several weeks, from cooking oil to a bar of solid soap. Part of this semester’s research involves students looking into ways to speed up the final curing stages.

The soap project has become so popular that it is being considered for development into a student work-study program or student club so more students can participate.

In keeping with the university’s Augustinian tradition—which emphasizes service to, and care for, one’s community—sustainability has found its way into all aspects of the curriculum, as well as other diverse campus initiatives. These include the geothermal cooling and water regulation systems placed in Fedigan Hall, an 80-year old residence hall renovated several years ago and turned into the University’s first “Green Form,” the elimination of trays in the dining halls, a compost program for Dining Services to reduce waste and the compostable potato-ware cutlery used on campus. For more information about these and other projects, click here.

Villanova will also celebrate the 41st anniversary of Earth Day with a series of lectures, events and a student Earth Day Festival. Click here for a full description of the festivities.

In 2007, University President, the Rev. Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A., Ph.D. signed the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment, the goal of which is to make Villanova a climate-neutral campus. The University has received accolades from the Sierra Club, Sustainable Endowments Institute, and The Princeton Review & U.S. Green Council.