LSU Students Work to Fuel Old Fire Apparatus with Vegetable Oil

A team of five LSU mechanical engineering students have taken on as a senior year project to demonstrate how used vegetable oil can be turned into vehicle fuel.

The vegetable oil fuel project, one of many that students in LSU’s Mechanical Engineering Department are working on, is an extension of an earlier team project that, in part, enabled a fire truck engine to run on biofuel.

Kolby St. Germain, one of the team members, said this year’s project is somewhat different in that the goal is to turn their project fire truck into an educational tool.

The team sponsor, the nonprofit Greater Baton Rouge Clean Cities Coalition, wants to use the truck as part of the coalition’s three-week high school science curriculum, said Lauren Stuart, coalition executive director and program coordinator.

“The truck will be a hands-on demonstration for students of any age or the public,” Stuart said. “Over the summer, we’ll be setting up our partnerships with the high schools.”

Although the original team installed a couple of deep fryers in the demonstration truck to show where used vegetable oil came from, McMills said that this year’s team is not going to get the fryers working again.

Instead, the team plans to install multiple glass tanks that allow viewers to see how used vegetable oil changes as it goes through the process of turning into motor fuel.

The team set up a process in which the raw material — used vegetable oil — is pumped through a series of tanks, most of them transparent, while water and impurities are removed, McMills said.

The normal job of turning vegetable oil into motor fuel would take about three or four hours, but the team members believe they can break the process down into basic steps understandable by viewers seeing the process for the first time.

Although designing the oil purification process would seem to be the most difficult part of the project, team members said one of their biggest challenges has been finding enough money to get the job done, since their sponsor is a nonprofit.

“There’s no cutting corners, but we don’t have the budget to use expensive materials,” Ian said.

St. Germain said the team could have used stainless steel, for example, but because it’s so expensive, the team went with aluminum.

There also have been learning moments along the way, moments familiar to many engineers. After taking their sponsor’s wishes into consideration, the team members

initially designed a much-larger project that included a large number of components.

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