College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

ISU BioBus breaks experience cycle

This story was originally published by Jace Dostal with the Iowa State Daily

Some students get caught in the loop of needing experience to get experience, but the ISU BioBus program aims to break the cycle.

The program creates biofuel for CyRide buses while providing a way for students to get valuable work experience.

“Our main mission is to teach about biorenewable fields in a practical way with a hands-on learning experience,” said Casey Nelson, senior in biological systems engineering and president of the ISU BioBus program.

The ISU BioBus program officially started in 2008, but it was a slow process getting to where it is today. It started when original founder Bernardo Del Campo, graduate student in agricultural and biosystems engineering, decided that something needed to be done with the vegetable oil that the dining centers were throwing out.

“It was a shame that all of the oil was going to waste,” Del Campo said. “We knew we needed to do something about it.”

He started researching ways that the oil could be used. When he heard about biofuels, he knew that that was what he wanted to turn the oil into.

Del Campo started working on finding funds to start the program. These funds came in the form of multiple grants that helped purchase equipment to make the biofuel, he said.

In 2009, ISU BioBus started its official partnership with CyRide and ISU Dining. The dining centers would give BioBus the excess vegetable oil, and then the group would turn it into biofuel for CyRide to use.

“The whole process takes a few weeks to complete because we have limited lab time,” said Daniel Moraes, senior in chemical engineering and president of engineering for ISU BioBus.

Moraes said that they make about 40 gallons of biofuel per batch, which translates to between 60 and 80 gallons per semester.

When the partnership between the BioBus and dining centers started, the dining centers brought the oil to the group, but they soon got tired of that. They eventually told the BioBus that if they wanted the oil they had to get it themselves, Del Campo said.

So the group set out to find something to transfer the oil in. They eventually found something that they call the Super Sucker, a miniature oil tank on wheels that allows the group to transfer the oil safely to their lab in the Biorenewables Lab.

Del Campo and Nelson can both attest to the aid that the ISU BioBus program can give to helping secure internships.

“I’ve seen many members of the BioBus get really good internships,” Nelson said. “Our main goal is to educate people about biofuels, so it’s nice to see that what we are doing is helping people.”