Biodiesel@MIT Delayed in Receiving Prize Check For Winning Energy Challenge

After a six-month delay, the Biodiesel@MIT team received their $25,000 winnings on Sept. 14 from General Electric and mtvU for winning the Ecomagination Challenge for college students in March.

Biodiesel@MIT, a group of MIT students, faculty, and staff, are working to install a biodiesel processor on campus to recycle used vegetable oil from campus dining facilities into biodiesel fuel usable by the Tech and SafeRide Shuttles. The team submitted the winning proposal on biodiesel for GE and mtvU’s Ecomagination Challenge, a collegiate competition designed to encourage environmental sustainability.

Britta Barrett, a GE spokeswoman, attributed the six-month delay to bureaucratic red tape. “The process for payment at any large corporation goes through a variety of approvals and processes to comply with legal and sourcing standards,” she said. “There was a glitch within this process that was not anticipated by GE or mtvU.”

Team leader Joseph D. Roy-Mayhew ’08 said that the biodiesel processor itself, used to convert used vegetable oil from campus dining facilities into biodiesel, would cost around $12,000. The team is also looking to spend from $5,000 to $8,000 on solar panels to power the processor and increase its environmental friendliness.

The money, had it been received by the team on time, would not have been spent over the summer anyway, Roy-Mayhew said, because the team has yet to secure a suitable location for the processor. The biodiesel processor requires 25 square feet of space, cold running water, electricity, and preferably access to a sewer. “We submitted four promising sites to the Committee for the Review for Space Planning,” he said. He declined to state what the four locations were because they had not yet been approved.

The first site considered has a convenient location close to where the Tech and SafeRide Shuttles are parked at night, Associate Provost Lorna Gibson, responsible for space planning, said. The location, however, does not have running water or access to a sewer and would require renovation. Roy-Mayhew estimated the cost of adding running water and a sewer at around $35,000. Some of the other sites being considered have similar financial constraints.

“We’re at the point now where we’ve asked to meet with the biodiesel team to talk about their financial plan,” Gibson said. “We’re still looking at options and getting costs.” Roy-Mayhew said that how the funding situation plays out will show “how much of a commitment MIT will have to environmental sustainability.”

The Biodiesel@MIT team’s winning proposal aims to recycle 2,500 gallons per year of used vegetable oil and eventually work its way up to recycling all of MIT’s used vegetable oil, approximately 15,000 gallons per year. To run on a fuel with 20 percent biodiesel, currently the highest proportion recommended, the six Tech Shuttles would require 6,000 gallons of biodiesel per year. Roy-Mayhew said the team hopes to reach that level in two or three years.