UR Biodiesel

We save the world one gallon at a time!

Our Bus

What good is biodiesel without a bus to use it in? Below is a picture of the UR Biodiesel bus. The bus began operation on Earth Day, April 22nd, 2009. It runs primarily on the Green Line (pun intended) that transports students to local shopping centers. The bus also occasionally subs in on the other bus lines. Finally, the bus is very popular for charters, and groups often specially request the biodiesel bus for their events. If you would like to use the UR biodiesel bus at your event, email Andrea Walton in UR Transportation at awalton@parking.rochester.edu to make a charter request.


Our History

Fall 2006, Spring 2007

In the fall of 2006, four undergraduate students came together and UR Biodiesel was born at the University of Rochester. The plan, which was completely student-driven, was to use the waste vegetable oil River Campus dining centers to create biodiesel, which could then be used in one of the campus buses.  The UR Biodiesel team worked during the fall of 2006 and spring of 2007 to create a business plan for the Charles and Janet Forbes Entrepreneurial Competition.  At that time, the team consisted of Chris Babcock (’07), Dave Borrelli (’09), Dan Fink (’09), and Eric Weissmann (’10).  After winning second place in that competition, as well as receiving strong vocal support from the judges, the team set out to make UR Biodiesel a reality. 

Fall 2007, Spring 2008

The team spent much of the fall 2007 and spring 2008 semester working to gain support from the University.  At this point Chris had graduated, and Dan, Dave and Eric met with University administrators frequently to win their support.  While most administrators agreed to the proposal in theory, it was very difficult to move to the next step.  After a very successful meeting with Dean Kevin Parker in November 2007, the project started to pick up.  The team met with Richard Pifer, Associate Vice President for University Facilities and Services, who agreed to work with us to build a facility to house our processor.  After continuing to flesh out some details, in April 2008 we took a trip to Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania with Jeff Foster, Director of River Campus Facilities and University Properties, and Eris Oleksyn, Trades Supervisor and Area Manager for Facilities.  Dickinson College already has an operational biodiesel facility that is similar to the one we were looking to construct.  Eris Oleksyn later became UR Biodiesel’s primary contact in Facilities and coordinated the day-to-day construction and progress at the UR Biodiesel site.
In April and May of 2008, and even into June and July over the phone, the team worked with Eris to come up with the ideal site for the UR Biodiesel facility, as well as to consider what would be necessary to make it happen.  Finally, in July 2008 on a conference call with Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Kevin Parker and Ovide Corriveau, Senior Operations Officer of the College, UR Biodiesel was given the final go-ahead.

Fall 2008

Most of the fall of 2008 was spent constructing the UR Biodiesel facility.  Eris handled most of this, though the team was busy working on other aspects of the project, such as designing the processor, coming up with a plan for publicity, figuring out a plan for the bus, developing a system and schedule for delivery of waste vegetable oil, working with Professor Ebenhack in Chemical Engineering to allow students in certain courses to work on UR Biodisel for credit, as well as a variety of other side projects.  In the fall 2008 semester, Hannah Baker (’10), Katie Maloney (’10) and Annalise Kjolhede (’10) began helping the team in a variety of ways, while receiving academic credit through the Chemical Engineering 278: Energy Alternatives Lab course.  Connecting UR Biodiesel to academic courses is an essential component to ensuring the long-term sustainability of the program.

Spring 2009

Early in the spring 2009 semester, construction on the UR Biodiesel facility was completed.  During the apring of 2009, the team focused on ordering parts for, designing, and building the biodiesel processor.  This was among the most educational aspects of the entire project, but also among the most difficult.  The ever-growing biodiesel team worked on running tests in the lab on the waste vegetable oil, especially as compared to natural vegetable oil.  The team is finalized the waste vegetable oil delivery system with Dining, conducted a design competition for the bus and installed that design, developed a schedule for operation of the processor, created a schedule for the bus itself including when it will be filled with biodiesel, and planned the kick-off ceremony.  As a result of all this work and more, the spring 2009 semester ended with a fully operational processor, facility, and UR Biodiesel Bus.

Fall 2009

The fall of 2009 saw many developments of UR Biodiesel. The team worked to establish UR Biodiesel as an official committee under the Students' Association-recognized club Engineers for a Sustainable World to ensure its long-term sustainability as an organization. A number of new sponsors jumped on board to support UR Biodiesel. More than 30 students got involved in one way or another, from working a regular shift in the lab to writing a proposal to build a solar panel on the roof of the facility to power the lights. The first ever lab manager was appointed, and numerous students received academic credit for their work on UR Biodiesel.

Spring 2010

 As Eric Weissmann was to graduate at the end of the semester, he appointed the next Chair, Ellen Sadri ('13) and lab manager, Mathias Ferber ('12). Shifts in the lab continued under Mathias's supervision. The group applied to and was granted the ACUI Excellence in Innovations for Sustainability 2009 Award. We also gained AEY and P&J Contruction as sponsors to our group.

Fall 2010

Our adviser Professor Ebenhack left the University of Rochester and Professor Doug Kelley in Chemical Engineering took his place. We started a new course the student volunteers could register for to gain course credit. 

Spring 2011

 In order to the solidify our group with Student Activities, UR Biodiesel became a sub-committee of the U of R Chapter of Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW). Our members now had the ability to get involved in ESW's projects in addition to ours and gave us more visibility. A few of our members went to the National Conference at Purdue University. One of our members, Katie Maloney (’10),  began independent research trying to convert our waste stream-glycerin- into soap to be sold in the University of Rochester Bookstore. 

Fall 2011 

Interest in our group by this semester was so large that we had a lab shift every day of the week with up to four volunteers. Half the members were receiving course credit for their work. Now that the group was off the ground and running smoothly, we decided to improve the quality of our product. Besides the continuation of  lab shifts producing biodiesel we acquired another lab and started learning procedures for quality testing. We aim to reach ASTM standards by the end of 2012. Another group of our members continued the soap research in a new lab. Due to our popularity and ability to teach real world chemical engineering experience, the Chemical Engineering Department decided that two semesters working in our lab would count as a technical elective.

Spring 2012

This semester we decided to add another level to the biodiesel group. A research group was added to find new ways to improve the lab or production process. They are looking into implementing a two step process to react the biodiesel. This would make our product more pure and higher quality. The production team is as big as last semester and we made 7 batches!

Fall 2012

UR Biodiesel saw many changes this semester. Our lab manager, Matthias Ferber, has graduated and has been replaced by chemical engineering major, Spencer Kingsbury! He has been a great addition to management and has been part of the group as a production member for years now. New positions were also implemented! We now have a quality testing manger, Eli Robbins, and research team manager, Zach Perry, to facilitate those projects. The research team is continuing the two step process study and looking into installing a heater in the bus so during cold weather the bus can still run on higher concentrations of biodiesel. 

Spring 2013

We have a new bus! Our old one finally kicked the bucket after years of good service. This semester was spent getting funding paint the bus generously donated by First Transit. We would like to thank the Student Association and the Chemical Engineering Department at the U of R for helping make this happen!


We had little success in lab this semester due to make technical failures but the quality testing and research groups were going strong! The project implementing  a two step process for the biodiesel reaction is making progress. Their test products are meeting some of the ASTM standards so its a step in the right direction.