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Wednesday, November 12, 2003
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Nation's first biodiesel fuel course at Ohio University to improve environment

By Bethany Miller

For the first time anywhere in the United States, a course at Ohio University is offering undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to learn about and to develop fuel from renewable sources. "Sustainable Applications: Biodiesel," which began this fall, is an independent study course where students are learning how to produce biodiesel fuel, a clean and renewable fuel that can be made from both new and used vegetable oils and animal fats. Specifically, students are using waste grease from campus dining halls.

"Other universities have research projects," said Associate Professor of Civil Engineering Ben Stuart, the course's instructor, "but this is the first one in the country offered for undergraduates and graduates more geared toward classroom education rather than research."

Three graduates and 12 undergraduates are enrolled in the course. In the first half of the class, students split into teams to explore the science, technology, production and environmental issues associated with biodiesel fuel. These small research projects, now completed, created a project-based learning environment for the course as opposed to a learning process of textbooks and lectures.

"[The class] is a whole different concept in learning," Stuart said.

Not only is biodiesel a renewable energy source made from organic materials, but it also burns cleaner compared to petroleum diesel fuel. Biodiesel is also less harmful for humans, with a 90 percent reduction in the number of cancer-causing agents from the amount found in petroleum fuel.

These environmental and health advantages are only a few reasons why the course was initiated by Ohio University's Sustainable Living Organization, a student group that serves as a medium for those on campus interested in environmental issues.

"These students wanted to implement a change in the University," Stuart said. "They wanted to establish a new infrastructure in how [the University] handles waste materials to turn them into a useable resource."

During the final weeks of the course, students studied the socio-economic factors of biodiesel fuel including business and marketing strategies, regulation concerns and effects on local business, Stuart said.

Bethany Miller is a student writer with University Communications and Marketing.
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