In this issue of Scientia, you have read about the ways in which University of Tennessee researchers are building a new energy future. Their work is important not only to the economic and environmental well-being of our nation but also to our world.
I want to take this opportunity to share the story of some of our students who have shown exceptional commitment and ingenuity in work that has been influential on a smaller scale.
UT Biodiesel is a project led by student members of the UT chapter of the Society of Automotive Engineering working closely with their faculty advisor, Butch Irick, a professor in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering. These students developed a unique idea—to build a small-scale biodiesel production plant here on campus.
That alone was no small undertaking, and to some students, building the processing plant might have been enough. This group, however, had a broader vision. They created a plan to use UT Dining Services’ used cooking oil to supply the processing plant’s raw material and then to put the resulting fuel to use in the campus’s many diesel-powered vehicles.
As with all scientific endeavors, there was an element of trial and error in the beginning, but with the cooperation of UT Dining Services and its waste-oil contractor, Valley Proteins, the students created a high-quality usable biodiesel fuel.
UT’s Facilities Services Department supported the effort, and the fuel is now used as a 20-percent mixture in every diesel-powered vehicle in their fleet. No other campus in the United States has a successful student-led effort of this scale.
Scott Curran, the leader of the UT Biodiesel effort, graduated from the College of Engineering last May, and he and other members of the team have returned to pursue graduate degrees in engineering. This year they will work with Dr. Irick to involve new undergraduates in the biodiesel program with the goal of maintaining the UT Biodiesel effort for the years to come.
Students like these, and others across our campus in a variety of colleges and academic departments, have already begun to realize the importance of the role that alternative energy will play in the years to come. UT Biodiesel is just one of many student groups on campus working on projects that target issues like producing and increasing the use of biofuels and green power. It is vital that the university provide these students the opportunity to pursue such projects and do hands-on research that will continue to stimulate their interest.
The students who show leadership in science and research on campus today will be tomorrow’s pioneers in their fields, making the discoveries that will influence the generations that follow—and possibly even appearing on the pages of magazines like this one.
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Loren Crabtree is the chancellor of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.