VILLANOVA, PA. – Villanova University engineering students have been converting used cooking oil from dining services into biodiesel fuel for university grounds keeping vehicles and equipment for several years now. This year the students wanted to take their green efforts one step further, so they took the leftover glycerin from the oil-to-fuel conversion and produced sustainable soap.
“Instead of disposing of the glycerol after it has been separated from the dirty biodiesel, we extend its product lifespan by using it to make something that everyone needs,” explained Adam Hoffman, the Villanova graduate student who leads the project.
The College of Engineering uses the soap to clean lab equipment, as hand soap in bathrooms and as a popular giveaway at conferences and student candidate visits. Engineering students are currently investigating the possibility of increasing production for distribution outside the university.
“We must train our students to think about the big picture and think of ways of reducing our energy usage, raw material consumption and energy demands,” said Dr. Randy Weinstein, professor and chair of the department of chemical engineering and director of the College of Engineering’s master of science degree program in sustainable engineering.
Scented with fragrance oils, the soap is considered a cosmetic rather than a detergent by FDA standards because of its glycerol base. It lathers, suds, cleans and leaves hands feeling smooth, while making a positive contribution towards campus sustainability.
The entire process can take up to several weeks, from cooking oil to a bar of solid soap. Part of this semester’s research involves a team of graduate and undergraduate students looking into ways to speed up the final curing stages.
The soap project has become so popular that it is being considered for development into a student work-study program or student club so more students can participate.