Beyond East Halls, beyond Beaver Stadium and even beyond the Snider Agricultural Arena, Doug Schaufler spends time in the basement level of a barn on Farm 10 pressing canola seed into oil.
The pressing is part of a now year-and-a-half long research effort that allows canola grown on 56 acres of Penn State farmland to be converted into cooking oil and bio-diesel, said Schaufler, Farm Operations and Services senior project associate.
The ultimate goal of the project is to create and produce a form of canola oil that can be used in on-campus dining hall fryers.
Director of Residence Dining Lisa Wandel said it's possible that three-fourths of the university's oil needs could be satisfied with on-campus production by next year.
Schaufler said he hopes that, over the course of the fall, enough oil can be produced to start integrating campus-produced oil in the dining commons. But he said they'll need to collect funds for equipment in order to move forward.
"I would love to say that in a year we'd have something like this ready," Wandel said.
That is no small task: Penn State campuses use 26,500 gallons of fryer oil every year, Wandel said.
Some of the leftover oil used in the dining commons is then collected by the researchers, who add methanol and sodium hydroxide to convert it into bio-diesel fuel, which is used to power two tractors built to run on vegetable oil, Schaufler said.
While Penn State-grown canola oil is not currently used in the dining halls, about 50 gallons of canola oil can be produced each day in the current facility, Schaufler said.
So far the oil has only been tested on small fryers, but the dining halls use much more heavy-duty oil fryers at significantly higher temperatures. Higher temperatures could force the oil to break down or catch fire because of the methanol, Wandel said.
The oil seed press needs to be relocated to a facility approved by state officials before the oil can be used on campus.
"They need to find a facility on campus they could do this in. We don't have the money currently to build that facility," Wandel said.
However, after the initial start-up costs, the production and recycling of canola oil on campus could actually save the university money in the long run due to a decrease in the overall cost of transportation, she said. Penn State Eco-Action public relations officer Chris Tutolo (sophomore-journalism) said he thinks the project is valuable to pursue as a source of renewable energy.
"It's a step forward that will hopefully be an example for other universities," he said.