The business of biodiesel: Elon students work with N.C. company to bring locally sourced biodiesel to campus
Students in courses taught by Susan Manring, associate professor of management, have been working with Biodiesel 4 Schools, an N.C. company that focuses on turning waste cooking oil into biodiesel to fuel school buses.
The work of Love School of Business students this spring and summer has helped fill Elon University’s fuel tanks with locally sourced biodiesel. Students in courses taught by Susan Manring, associate professor of management, worked with Biodiesel 4 Schools and its founder Dean Price to get hands-on experience with a local company using a sustainable development business model.
Biodiesel 4 Schools has the mission to take local waste cooking oil, convert it to biodiesel and sell it for use in local school buses. The company uses a circular economy business model that looks to turn waste into value. “It’s what I call the perfect Cinderella story,” Price said. “Five years ago, these businesses were having to pay to get rid of this cooking oil. All of a sudden, this trash has become treasure.”
Students in Core Capstone course Sustainable Development taught by Manring formed a partnership with Biodiesel 4 Schools to cultivate local sources for waste cooking oil that can be converted into biodiesel and explore the possible use of locally sourced biodiesel by Elon in its BioBuses and other diesel-powered vehicles. That partnership resulted in the delivery of 7,500 gallons of N.C.-sourced biodiesel to Elon in August, which should power those vehicles for up to three months.
Keith Dimont, automotive services manager at Elon, said the university uses about 30,000 gallons of diesel a year to power 11 BioBuses and other diesel vehicles. He visited Manring’s class in the spring multiple times to learn more about how Elon might benefit from working with Biodiesel 4 Schools. “When they said they were working with biofuel, it captured my interest,” Dimont said.
Among those in the course was Nick Haskin ’17, who worked with Biodiesel 4 Schools throughout the summer to help the company establish new partnerships around the state. The company has signed Winston-Salem-based grocery chain Lowes Foods as a partner, with oil from its stores to be processed into biodiesel, and has partnered with SYNC BioResources on an innovative bioreactor for biodiesel production. “Biodiesel production is nothing new,” Haskin said. “What we’re trying to introduce is localized biodiesel production.”
Haskin said Biodiesel 4 Schools is presenting to the Alamance-Burlington School System to offer a partnership that could include the school system using locally generated biodiesel. The company is also talking with Sustainable Alamance, which is headed by founder and Executive Director Phil Bowers, about utilizing a biodiesel reactor to process locally collected cooking oil, thereby creating jobs for its program participants. Sustainable Alamance is a nonprofit that helps local residents attain self-sufficiency.
This fall Elon students in Economics of Poverty, taught by Assistant Professor of Economics Steven Bednar, will continue on the work started in the spring by performing an impact study on the benefits a local asset like a biodiesel reactor could bring to Burlington and Alamance County and the economic multipliers that would entail.