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March 6, 2009

Green Acres: Students’ Biofuel Idea Funded by MTV Contest

Media Contact:
Chip Rose, UMBC Research News

Story Note: Learn more about the UMBC Biodiesel Club on Maryland Public Television's "Motorweek" show, starting on Friday, March 13. In Baltimore County, the episode featuring coverage of Maryland's homebrewed biodiesel community will air Saturday (3/14) at 5pm and Sunday (3/15) at 2pm, Thursday (3/19) at 8pm on MPT. Check your local listings for other broadcast times.

Nothing says "reduce, reuse and recycle" like turning horse manure into fuel. Inspired by Indian innovators, four members of the UMBC Biodiesel Club recently won $1,000 in seed funding in an MTV-sponsored, international environmental contest for their idea to make biofuel at a Maryland farm.

Four  UMBC sophomore chemical engineering majors --  Nick Selock, Marsha Walker, Donterrius Ethridge and Angela Nealen – earned funding from MTV Switch's "Dream It, Do It Challenge" a global competition for the best environmental and sustainability ideas from young people around the world.

According to Selock, the Club's proposal for the MTV contest was inspired by the Gober (Hindi for cow dung) gas innovators in India, who use specially designed equipment to digest dung from sacred cows and refine it into cooking gas used by many households. The biogas produced is clean, cheap and sustainable; perfect for developing nations and for anyone looking to reduce environmental impact.

"The MTV prize money will enable us to purchase and set up an anaerobic digester to collect methane, which is a more potent and harmful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, from horse manure and then convert it into methanol," said Selock. "The current methanol we use is made from natural gas, which is much less environmentally friendly."

MTVBioD_small.JPGPhoto Caption: UMBC Biodiesel Club members (left to right) Donterrius Ethridge, Angela Nealen, Nick Selock and Marsha Walker

Under the mentorship of Bradley Arnold, associate professor of chemistry, the Club has been working at a local horse farm in Burtonsville, Md., since September 2008 to apply classroom and lab concepts to their all-volunteer operation to improve the biodiesel brewing process.

Members have taught farm owner Dick Hunt how to brew biodiesel to power tractors and plan to use additional fuel to help heat his home. The Club regularly gathers used vegetable cooking oil from area restaurants, including the Woodberry Kitchen, and converts it to biodiesel to power their own vehicles.

The "Dream It, Do It" challenge is a joint venture between MTV Switch (the global climate change campaign of MTV Networks), the global social entrepreneurship organization Ashoka Gen V and the Staples Foundation for Learning.

The Club continues to be active in green advocacy on campus. Members were part of UMBC’s recent participation in the National Teach-in on Global Warming, and Club president Mike German recently met with members of the Maryland House Environmental Matters Committee when they visited campus in December.

To learn more about the UMBC Biodiesel Club, visit Learn more about UMBC’s Sustainability efforts at

Posted by crose at March 6, 2009 10:30 AM