MULTIDISCIPLINARY STUDENT EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING PROJECT PROVIDE A PLATFORM TO ADDRESS CONTEMPORARY ISSUES RELATED TO ENERGY, ENVIRONMENT, AND SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE AT A LAND GRANT UNIVERSITY

“The Bio-Fuel, Sustainability, and Geospatial Information Technologies to Enhance Experiential Learning Paradigm for Precision Agriculture Project”, recently funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) extends the environmental stewardship archetype of the preceding project titled “Environmentally Conscious Precision Agriculture: A Platform for Active Learning and Community Engagement” (completed in September 2011) at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore(UMES). The initial phase of the project to demonstrate the production of biodiesel using waste vegetable oil (WVO) from campus dining services has been successfully executed by UMES student team. Under the supervision of the project leaders, the students have worked in teams to collect, dewater, and filter the WVO; supported the acquisition of supplies and installation of the biodiesel processor; performed necessary titration and laboratory tests on the WVO to determine appropriate amounts of chemicals ( sodium hydroxide, methanol, and sulfuric acid) to be used with a batch of WVO in the processor for the esterification and transesterification reactions; and operated and monitored the 48 hour biodiesel production and washing cycle of the processor. Besides biodiesel the process produces glycerin as byproduct. The glycerin has been used to produce soap successfully by the students. Students have also tested ‘gelling’ tendency of different blends of biodiesel and are currently working with the UMES farm manager to identify and appropriately modify farm equipment for biodiesel use. Students are also working with the university safety office to refine safety considerations to comply with OSHA and municipality requirements. Students will be involved in managing broader logistics of scheduling the processor operation for biodiesel production and utilization, based on needs of the farm equipment. The project team plans to refine the processing of glycerin by-product to improve the aesthetics, fragrance, and other qualitative parameters of the soap so that they may sell it for possible fund-raising efforts for selected student organizations.

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