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Biodiesel Project, Formula Car Shine at Statehouse

Tuesday, 11 March 2008 10:10 CDT

[Visitors crowd around the School of Engineering table at KU in the Capitol in March 2008.]

The University of Kansas School of Engineering was fully fueled and revved up at KU in the Capitol on March 10.

The annual outreach event gives the university’ diverse schools, research and service entities an opportunity to show their strengths and interact with legislators, Statehouse staffers, governmental leaders and the general public.

Associate Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering and Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Associate Dean Robert Sorem were there with students involved in two high-profile engineering projects on campus.

[A student volunteer with the KU Biodiesel project discusses its importance.]

Williams, who recently won a university-wide sustainability award, oversees the KU Biodiesel Project. The program converts used cooking oil from one of the dining centers on campus into biodiesel.

Williams and two student volunteers from the program handed out more than 100 small demonstration vials of the homegrown fuel. The overwhelming response from visitors was one of appreciation that work is taking place to address energy needs.

Williams explained the project was initially funded by a $15,000 appropriation from KU Student Senate, which allowed the initiative to purchase two reactors to create the biodiesel. Student volunteers from across the KU campus keep the project up and running. The volunteers, regardless of major, are trained in how to safely make biodiesel.

The ultimate goal is to use the biodiesel to fuel a wide variety of vehicles and machines on the KU campus from lawn and landscaping tractors to the KU bus system.

[Jayhawk Motorsports team members engage visitors]

The Jayhawk Motorsports team, led by Associate Dean Sorem, also wowed the crowd at KU in the Capitol. The attraction that drew visitors near was the sleek Formula-style vehicle that the team used to earn second place at the 2007 SAE West Competition and 10th place at the 2007 SAE Formula Car Challenge. Students on the team — primarily mechanical engineering majors — design the car, build it from scratch and then put the vehicle through a series of grueling tests at the student competition. KU is the only team in the past seven years to successfully complete each of the competition events at the Formula Car Challenge, which draws entries from around the world.

[A youngster checks out the driver’s seat]

Some of the legislators, visitors, lobbyists, visitors — and even Baby Jay — had an opportunity to sit behind the drivers wheel.