MIT Team Wins mtvU Eco-Challenge

52 biodiesel
Students (left to right) Katherine C. Rowe ’10, Katrina M. Ellison ’10, Joseph D. Roy-Mayhew ’08, and Matthew R. Zedler ’07 are all smiles after mtvU and General Electric surprised them with a $25,000 grant for winning the first-ever mtvU-GE ecomagination Challenge. Their proposal, “Biodiesel@MIT,” is an apparatus that can convert waste vegetable oil into biodiesel for the campus.
David M. Templeton—THE TECH

“Biodiesel! … Woo!”

That’s what Gardner Loulan, an mtvU VJ, had to say yesterday afternoon as he prepared to surprise Biodiesel@MIT with the news that they had won $25,000. The student group won the Ecomagination Challenge, an energy conservation competition between college students to increase the environmental sustainability of college campuses.

As Loulan walked to surprise the team with an mtvU film crew, he characterized the project quite well: “It’s complicated … but it’s awesome.”

The team’s proposal outlays a plan to reprocess used vegetable oil from dining halls into diesel fuel for SafeRide and Tech Shuttles. The team beat out over 100 other schools to win the $25,000 grant and an Earth Day concert featuring Angels and Airwaves that will be held at MIT on April 22.

The competition is a “great way to promote environmentally friendly technology,” said Britta Barrett, a GE representative who also surprised the candidates. “The MIT team submitted a fantastic biodiesel proposal,” she said.

There was applause and cheer as the mtvU crew entered biodiesel team’s meeting. The footage of the team being surprised by the news that they won will air on mtvU and on March 28.

“We never expected to get $25,000 today,” said Matthew R. Zedler ’07, a Biodiesel@MIT team member.

The money will be used to purchase a biodiesel processor, which has a $15,000 price tag as set forth in the team’s original proposal. In that proposal, Biodiesel@MIT claims that biodiesel produces 68 percent less carbon dioxide than petroleum-based diesel and eliminates sulfur dioxide emissions. (Nitrogen oxide emissions, however, increase by 4 percent.) The net result is a greener, cleaner, more environmentally-friendly fuel. According to Zedler, the MIT group is unique compared to other colleges that use biodiesel fuel because they plan to use solar panels to power the biodiesel processor.

Katrina M. Ellison ’10 was optimistic about the grant money. “We could potentially start by this May,” said Ellison. “We could eventually scale up to 5,000 gallons [of biodiesel] per year,” she said.

According to an mtvU press release, the MIT team was selected as the winner by mtvU, GE, and a panel of environmental experts from GreenOver, with input from college students casting online votes.

The competition, which is sponsored by mtvU and General Electric, and is a part of GE’s ecomagination initiative to promote sustainable technology. More information about the contest and the top 10 teams can be found at