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Volume 79

Renewable resources focus of new program

Published (Volume 78, No. 20)

The UTM Physical Plant has announced plans to use soy biodiesel to power its new on-campus power plant.

The $4.4 million plant, funded in part by a grant from the Tennessee Valley Authority, will operate using diesel made from soybeans, a local agricultural staple.

Physical Plant officials say that soy biodiesel will help reduce the university’s dependence on foreign petroleum.

Soy biodiesel is considered a renewable resource since soybeans, which are required for the manufacture of the fuel, can be harvested annually.

Soy biodiesel is also considered considerably less harmful to the environment than conventional oil-based diesel fuels. Dr. S.K. Airee, a UTM chemistry professor, says burning biodiesel reduces emissions of ozone, carbon dioxide, sulfur and other pollutants.

However, biodiesel currently costs more than using conventional diesel products. But Physical Plant Director Tim Nipp says the benefits outweigh the costs.

“The advantage is that (biodiesel) is an alternative fuel, a step of ours in trying to be less dependent on petroleum,” Nipp says.

The university’s decision to use alternative energy sources to power its new electrical facility comes on the heels of President Bush’s calls last week for further investment in alternative fuel sources.

UTM already uses waste motor oil from university vehicles to power the building that warehouses the university’s recycling operations.

The implementation of biodiesel in the coming power generation facility is only one facet of UTM’s commitment to recycling and a clean environment, Physical Plant officials say.

Dennis Kosta, Physical Plant housekeeping manager, is responsible for UTM’s recycling program.

Kosta says UTM recycles more than 100 tons of paper and cardboard each year. Every office on campus is outfitted with a blue recycling bin for waste paper, and Dining Services has receptacles for cardboard, which they use extensively. The library also recycles its old magazines, and the steam plant recycles its scrap metal, Kosta says. Recycling receptacles are also located in classroom buildings, with bins for paper and aluminum cans.

The university does not have currently have a recycling program in place for plastics.

UTM recently began a composting project to reduce garbage dumping waste from leaves and horse manure. Workers collect leaves and combine them with horse manure to be spread in the Quad as compost. Kosta says the university has plans to ally with Dining Services to add waste food products to the composting project.

A recycling project began at UTM in 1992 and has expanded since then. Kosta says UTM is doing a good job in recycling, but that there is still progress to be made.

“Our biggest problem is with educating faculty and students,” Kosta says. “There’s probably 30 to 40 percent of recyclable items that get thrown away. A lot of people don’t know we have a recycling program.”

Recycling is not exactly cost-effective for UTM, but recycling is “the right thing to do for the environment,” regardless of the cost, Kosta says.

Between hiring two full-time employees to tend to the university’s recycling endeavors and equipment costs, the university spends about $30,000 annually on recycling, while only making about $6,000 in revenue from selling the recyclable waste.

Kosta says the university recovers some of its losses by saving money that would be spent on dumping waste in landfills. He estimates each truckfull would cost $300.

Kosta says the university recently placed 10 new recycling bins in classrooms that are receiving The New York Times through the American Democracy Project. The 32-gallon bins have a special slit in the top for the newspapers.

In the past, student groups have organized to help raise awareness for recycling programs, but he says that those groups have faded through the years.

“We do need students who are interested in the environment and recycling to help spread the word,” Kosta says.

Dr. S.K. Airee, UTM chemistry professor, says the administration is on the right path in lessening the university’s ecological footprint.

“Recycling is absolutely necessary for us to be environmentally sustainable,” Airee says. “The administration is doing a good job of acknowledging the situation.”

Airee teaches a new class on environmental chemistry, which stresses “green chemistry,”  a movement in the chemistry community to reduce waste and mitigate pollution. Airee and his chapter of the Student Affiliates of the American Chemical Society have been working with soy biodiesel for years, and have been honored by the American Chemical Society for eight consecutive years for their commitment to green chemistry. Airee says a green chemistry workshop will be held at UTM on April 29. Airee says UTM is on the cutting edge of environmental chemistry research and that his new class is another step in the right direction for the university’s acknowledging protecting the environment.