Biodiesel Team Considers NW14 Location

The Future Is Uncertain, But Not Completely Bleak, for Alternative Fuel Program

The mission may not be over after all for the Biodiesel@MIT team, which three weeks ago was prepared to abandon its two-year project in the face of insurmountably high costs.

MIT says it may have found an affordable place for the team to install its biodiesel processor, which would convert used grease from around the campus into fuel.

The team’s project, first brainstormed in January 2006, received a major funding boost in March 2007 with a $25,000 prize from the mtvU/General Electric Ecomagination Challenge. Because of administrative delays, the prize was not received for six months, and the team missed its original goal of getting a fuel processor running by the 2007 school year.

But the team faced another, harder problem: where to put the processor. Over the course of a yearlong planning phase, estimated costs for preparing a site ranged from a $3,000 safety budget to a $35,000 estimate from Facilities to a $137,000 quote. MIT’s Committee for the Review of Space Planning was willing to pick up some — but not all — the cost of the required changes.

In a May 8 meeting, CRSP and Facilities told Biodiesel@MIT that the project might be feasible if the team could raise another $20,000, facing a total cost of $80,000. The team decided that the costs didn’t justify the potential environmental and economic benefits and considered giving up the project, The Tech reported on May 13.

Since then, MIT has searched for more options and has found a possible location in the Francis Bitter Magnet Lab.

“We’re looking into it, to see if the space will work,” said Associate Provost Lorna J. Gibson, CRSP chair.

Joseph D. Roy-Mayhew ’08, the team’s founder, said that the team said “nothing has been confirmed.”

The team has known about the space in NW14 for years, but it “wasn’t put back on the table until early May or so,” Roy-Mayhew ’08 said. The space is currently occupied by a graduate student in Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, who is expected to finish his thesis this month, Roy-Mayhew said.

If the team decides to move into the space, it won’t do so before September, Roy-Mayhew said.

Gibson said that they looked at other spaces that “ended up costing too much” but are yet to get an estimate of cost of preparing the space for Biodiesel@MIT from the contractor they are working with. She said that they will get the estimate in the next few weeks. The space has to meet safety requirements and the fire code.