Campus Lawnmowers Being Switched to Environmentally Friendly Biodiesel

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OXFORD, Miss. – The scent of fresh-cut grass may be
accompanied by the aroma of fried catfish, chicken or
potatoes at the University of Mississippi this summer.

The UM Landscape Services Department and Mississippi
Mineral Resources Institute have joined forces to
experiment with using more environmentally friendly fuel in
campus lawnmowers. One mower is running on a blend of
biodiesel made from used cooking oil and regular diesel,
and plans call for switching all mowers to this fuel by the
end of summer.

The move comes about a month after Chancellor Robert Khayat
signed the American College & University Presidents’
Climate Commitment. The initiative, sponsored by the
Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher
Education, calls for colleges and universities to identify
major sources of greenhouse gas emissions and reduce this
output over five years.

Greenhouse gases include water vapor, carbon dioxide,
methane and ozone. All are natural components of the
Earth’s atmosphere, but excesses of these gases cause the
planet’s temperature to slowly climb, contributing to what
is known as the “greenhouse effect” or “global warming.”

The transition to biodiesel for landscape services is the
first of many changes coming to campus operations, said
Jeffrey McManus, director. “We’re kind of the guinea pig,”
he said. “We’re a good group to experiment on because we
have a wide variety of equipment that is used daily on

For the past two weeks, the department has operated one of
its riding lawnmowers on a mix of biodiesel fuel and
petroleum diesel, he said. MMRI produced the biodiesel
using vegetable oil offered for recycling by local

The mixture being used is 20 percent biodiesel and 80
percent regular diesel, McManus said. The mower has
operated with few problems on the blend, he said.

The long-term goal is to slowly decrease the amount of
regular diesel until the machines can run on 100 percent
biofuel. All of the university’s mowers could be powered by
a mixture of biofuel by the end of the summer, McManus

“People may notice a sweeter smell behind the lawnmower due
to the origin of the fuel,” he said. When burned, biodiesel
smells like whatever was originally cooked in the oil.
McManus is developing signage to put on the lawnmower
indicating it runs on environmentally friendly fuel.

An industrial lawnmower may use anywhere from seven to 10
gallons of diesel fuel a day and landscaping services
operates 10 to 15 mowers on a daily basis.

The department usually spends $3,000 on fuel for mowers
every two or three weeks, chief mechanic David Hodge said.
He also has noticed that the modified mower seems to be
burning fuel at a slower rate than others but pointed out
that the project is still in the testing phase.

Brad Crafton, a senior anthropology major and research
assistant at MMRI, helped launch the university’s biodiesel
project. Crafton began experimenting with biodiesel in
2003, when he went to a university-sponsored workshop in
California and learned how to make his own fuel. After
returning to Oxford and working at various local
restaurants, he decided to literally take his work home
with him and experiment with used cooking oil.

“I knew as an anthropology major that I wanted to evaluate
a need in society and try and fix that need,” Crafton said.
He taught himself the chemistry and made his first batches
in a blender in his own kitchen.

Using the fuel should significantly reduce the air
pollution the lawnmowers create, Crafton said.
“Essentially, we are reducing the air pollution by 20
percent,” he said.

Research indicates that biodiesel significantly reduces
greenhouse gas emissions. The use of pure biodiesel can
reduce emissions of carbon monoxide, sulfates and
carcinogens by more than 50 percent, while the mixture
adopted by Ole Miss can reduce those emissions by at least
10 percent, according to the Environmental Protection
Agency’s Web site

Crafton creates the fuel in an MMRI facility in Oxford
using an industrial grade, computer-controlled processor
that “makes very high quality fuel,” he said. This is an
upgrade from the original 35-gallon biodiesel processor he
built himself for less than $1,000, using a modified
40-gallon water heater, a 70-gallon cone-shaped settling
tank, a 120-gallon washing tank and several hoses with
quick-release valves.

Crafton runs his own 1980s Mercedes Benz on 100 percent
biodiesel in the warm seasons and a 50 percent mixture in
the winter. He can produce the fuel for $1 a gallon
provided local restaurants continue to donate the used
cooking oil.

“Most restaurants pay to have that stuff hauled off,” he
said. “So this way they save on a bill and I save on a

The university uses several diesel vehicles, so this
technology could save Ole Miss a considerable amount of
money, in addition to reducing air pollution. MMRI has been
running its 15-passenger van for more than a year on pure
biodiesel with no mechanical problems.

Though Crafton operates a small-batch facility, he’s
confident the production will be able to grow to meet the
university’s needs. The fuel has been evaluated and meets
both ASTM and EPA standards.

For more information about the Mississippi Mineral Research
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