Iowa State University (Ames, Iowa)
Chemical Engineering and Economics (Undergrad)
Almost as soon as he set foot on the campus of Iowa State University as a freshman, Sam Kramer became interested in biodiesel production and use. ISU has a robust biodiesel program, complete with a small reactor and unique “BioBus” club.
“My passion for biodiesel comes from my drive to improve my surroundings,” Kramer said. “Biodiesel production at Iowa State takes cumbersome waste cooking oil and replaces it with a product that mitigates greenhouse emissions, helping more than just the Ames community.”
The ISU biodiesel process starts by collecting used cooking oil from the cafeteria via the “Super Sucker,” a large propane tank on a trolley equipped with a pump. You might think the freshman would be delegated to collect the grease, but instead, they had the job of designing an up-scaled version of this system based on the previous design. Kramer and his team completed it after two semesters of work.
The production process continues, in abbreviated steps, with drying, testing, reacting and re-drying. The students then check their biodiesel with Environmental Health and Safety before it goes on to fuel the local college busing system, called CyRide.
Some missteps kept the club out of the lab and unable to produce biodiesel for more than a year, but Kramer says they learned and didn’t give up. The students elected Kramer to the position of BioBus President in 2018.
“I set to work recruiting a new cast of excited members, and we returned to our lab,” he said. “We faced challenges in getting familiar with our system and some unexpected malfunctions, but with persistence we successfully renewed our production of biodiesel.”
As President of BioBus, Kramer ensured that club members were up to date on safety trainings, taught new members about the biodiesel production process, informed members about the structure of the biodiesel economy, and initiated communications between the advisors, graduate students and other involved parties.
“The BioBus Club sparks interest in renewable energy and gives young engineering students hands-on experience,” he said. “The world needs more capable and caring engineers, and our work yields such.”
In 2019, Kramer was invited to the National Biodiesel Conference & Expo in San Diego.
“Attending the National Biodiesel Conference was an incredible experience, and gave me more insights into the economics, logistics, policy, and physical behavior of biodiesel than I ever thought was possible,” he said. “It felt like jumping into a pool and barely dipping my toes in at the same time. Now, my desire is to see how much more I can learn about this industry going forward.”
Kramer also works at a small Iowa company called ARTi, which takes excess biomass and feedstock and converts it into biochar through pyrolysis. Biochar is a compound which reduces carbon, making it useful as a field additive, filter and more. The company was founded by Bernardo del Campo – one of four original co-chairs of the Next Generation Scientists for Biodiesel in 2009!
The National Biodiesel Board is funded in part by the United Soybean Board and state soybean board checkoff programs.