Student’s Idea Fuels Innovative Biodiesel Production Facility at Embry-Riddle


Facility’s Feb. 22 Opening Highlighted School’s Focus on Engineering Solutions for Real Problems.

Daytona Beach, Fla. - Last year Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University student engineer Michelle Rodio asked: Why not convert used cooking oil from the student cafeteria into biodiesel to run the lawn maintenance vehicles at the school’s Daytona Beach campus?

On Wednesday, Feb. 22, the university will answered Rodio’s question when it officially opens an innovative biodiesel production facility she developed on campus.

Rodio, a graduate student in mechanical engineering, said she got her idea last fall in a course she took on clean energy systems, which required students to do a project on alternative energy. “Having already been interested in biofuel, I jumped at the opportunity to study how to make biodiesel and learn about its benefits,” she said.

With help from two other students, Jay Ekelmann and Ken Meierjurgen, she obtained funding from Richard Heist, the campus’s executive vice president and chief academic officer, and Maj Mirmirani, dean of engineering. After that, she took charge of the project and managed it to completion.

“We are proud of our students’ innovative spirit and their ability to put into practice the knowledge they acquire,” Heist said. “Green engineering research is one of Embry-Riddle’s core research areas and this biodiesel production facility is consistent with our university’s applied research focus. It is also consistent with other student and faculty research focused on engineering wind, ocean, and solar-powered solutions to real-world problems.”

The biodiesel processer mixes used cooking oil from the campus kitchens with methanol and sodium hydroxide to produce biodiesel. The processer can make 40 gallons of biodiesel at a time for $1 per gallon.

Rodio’s innovative solution ties in with an Embry-Riddle program called IGNITE! that seeks to enhance education by encouraging students to get involved in research. Embry-Riddle is unique among U.S. universities in the extent that its students are allowed to take part in applied research.

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