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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Waste from biofuel gets yet another use as soap

By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Brigham Young University-Hawai'i executive chef Spancer Tan collects fat from a pan of bacon. The fat will be used to make biodiesel and, later, soap.

Monique Saenz, BYUH photos

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Daniel Scott, right, a professor of biochemistry and chemistry at Brigham Young University-Hawai'i, holds a jug of glycerol that will be used to make soap, while student researcher Joann Diray purifies another batch. The glycerol is derived from biodiesel that is made from cooking oil.

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Call it re-recycling.

For several years a Lā'ie business has taken used cooking oil from area restaurants and turned it into biodiesel.

Now some students at Brigham Young University-Hawai'i are taking the waste from biodiesel fuel production and turning it into hand soap.

"We're looking at about a $15,000 reduction a year, minimal, just for the soap," said David Keala, director of food services at BYUH. "The savings is fabulous."

The soap is created from glycerol, a byproduct of biodiesel that is made from old cooking oil.

Hawai'i Reserves Inc., the managing company for the Mormon Church properties in Lā'ie, initiated the biodiesel project 2 1/4 years ago, said Daniel Clark, maintenance mechanic for HRI.

So instead of institutions such as BYUH and the Polynesian Cultural Center paying someone to haul their waste oil away, HRI took it for free and made fuel for tractors, lawn mowers and back hoes, Clark said.

"We fluctuate, but it's roughly about half the cost of diesel at the pump," Clark said. "I think it's $3.99 in Kāne'ohe."

Biodiesel production created a byproduct, glycerol. Clark sought ways to use it and learned it would be good for composting and soap, among other uses. He made about 150 gallons of raw soap but turned over the project to BYUH because his mechanic shop was unable to refine the soap further, he said

Keala said he was thrilled to work with HRI on the biodiesel project, so when Clark mentioned the glycerol, they decided to approach the chemistry department to see if it was interested in setting up a soap project for students.

Daniel Scott, a biochemistry and chemistry professor at BYUH, said the research project took recycling to a different level and taught students the value of resources such as waste oil.

Scott said the goal was to produce a soap that smelled good, moisturized the hands and provided antibacterial protection. They settled on a foaming liquid hand soap.

He said he's seen a comparable soap on the Internet for $45 a liter. "We can make a liter of soap for about $2," Scott said. "I can't imagine it costing them more them $4 a liter."

The soap is used by BYUH food services, including in the dining hall.

Several students worked as paid researchers on the project, including Misheel Batsaikhan, a senior in biochemistry. Her first task was to make the soap with nice fragrances and color, Batsaikhan said. A series of trials had poor results including unpleasant colors and a watery product, she said.

Probably the worst experience she had with the project was when she tried to short-cut a procedure to siphon soap from a large container into a smaller one. She ended up swallowing a mouthful of soap.

"It was really gross," Batsaikhan said. "It smells nice and it's good soap, but swallowing is not recommended."

She said this is the best job she has had.

"I never thought any research would be so much fun," Batsaikhan said. "I just feel like I'm an artist."