Dear SELF Capstone Review Committee,
The Biodiesel Initiative is a research lab run by student workers and volunteers that converts used cooking oil generated in the Lawrence community into a biodiesel fuel.
The Biodiesel Initiative lab is divided into four different groups. The first group is production, which runs the chemical process to convert the used cooking oil into the renewable biodiesel fuel. The second group is testing, which runs various tests on all the products produced in the lab to ensure that they meet safety and quality standards. The third group is logistics, which organizes the pick-up of the used cooking oil from around Lawrence, the drop-off of the finished biodiesel fuel, and the mixing of the biodiesel fuel with regular diesel (most modern engines cannot run solely on biodiesel – instead they run on a blend of biodiesel and diesel fuel). The fourth group is soap production, which converts a waste product of the biodiesel production, glycerin, into a usable soap product.
My capstone proposal is to continue the progress that Andrew Doerflinger has made with the commercialization of the soap to be able to sell it on a large scale on campus and around Lawrence. Soap production is a relatively new portion of the Biodiesel Initiative, and the current system to mass produce and sell the soap is still somewhat expensive compared to competitors. My goal is to find ways to reduce costs, market the soap products effectively, and sell them on a large scale.
1245 West Campus Road
Lawrence, KS 66044
SELF Capstone Proposal:
Soap Commercialization within the
KU Biodiesel Initiative
SELF Cohort ‘18
February 28, 2017
The KU Biodiesel Initiative is a student-run organization that collects used cooking oil from around campus and the Lawrence community and converts it to a biodiesel fuel. This fuel is then sold to the facilities department to help power their landscaping and maintenance equipment. A byproduct of the biodiesel production is a mixture of glycerin and methanol. Through distillation, the methanol can be removed, purifying the glycerin product. The KU Biodiesel Initiative has recently begun converting this glycerol waste product of the biofuel production into a usable soap. The soap has high potential as it can be adapted to have many different properties and uses such as a hand soap, an industrial cleaner, and a degreaser.
Andrew Doerflinger has been working to perfect this soap production and begin to commercialize it. My capstone project will continue the progress that Andrew has already made by selling the soap to more campus organizations, potentially get the soap products EPA certified, as well as use my connections on campus and in different organizations throughout the Lawrence community to distribute and sell the soap on a large scale.
Personal and Professional Passion
I am passionate about this project for several reasons. First, I have always been interested in sustainability and “green” chemistry. At the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, I did two years of chemistry research, where I focused on recycling CO2 to produce a sustainable, alternative energy while making the environment safer and cleaner. This project appeals to me because the main purpose of the biodiesel lab is production of biodiesel from used cooking oil, which is a sustainable process. The soap production part of the lab uses a waste product of this process, glycerin, to create soap. Secondly, as a chemical engineering major with a business minor, this project aligns well with my education. In the lab, I will have the opportunity to improve the processes currently in place to decrease the costs of soap production. I will also use my knowledge of business to market and sell the final soap product to customers.
Management- I will need to hold team members of the soap production team accountable and working together to complete project goals.
Leadership- Working with the soap production team, I will delegate certain tasks to team members and oversee the overall commercialization process.
Business Acumen- I will need to have a firm understanding of how a business works to ensure that the soap production can be profitable and develop a customer base.
Interpersonal Relations- I will be marketing the soap to potential clients. Building connections will be crucial to the success of this project. The existing relationships with the department of facilities will be strengthened, as well as networking and developing new relationships with other interested parties.
Entrepreneurship- Entrepreneurship will be very important in continuous improvement of the soap production and the growth of the distribution system.
Communication- Team work will require excellent communication to ensure that all members of the team clearly understand the goals of the project and to resolve any issues that may arise.
Engineering- I will be continuously improving the current system of soap production and developing ways to decrease costs of the production. I will be relying on my engineering knowledge and skills to complete these tasks.
I will be using my chemical engineering skills to decrease the costs associated with the production of the soap. While I do not have the environmental concentration, my previous work in sustainable chemistry and my career goals of working towards a sustainable future align well with the objective of this project.
Benefit to KU
This project benefits the KU community in several ways. Firstly, it is a benefit to the KU Biodiesel Initiative. We are taking a waste product from the biodiesel, which is already being produced, recycling it to make “green” soap, and selling it. This will help fund future projects and research within the Biodiesel Initiative. Further within the Biodiesel Initiative, this project will have a positive impact on the other soap team members. Since the project will be a team effort, the other members will be able to build their skills as well. Beyond that, it also benefits the KU community because we will be introducing a new soap product that will be available for purchase.
Project Goals & Objectives
The objective of this proposal is the commercialization of the soap product produced within the KU Biodiesel Initiative lab. This objective will consist of several different goals, including testing and refining the soap product, establishing a selling and distribution system, and evaluating and potentially applying for certain certifications.
The current goal is to diversify the soap and produce several different products to fit the needs of various consumers. Some of these products are disinfectants, antimicrobial soaps, degreasers, etc. Another goal is to improve the process to decrease the cost of production. Lowering this cost will make our soap product more competitive in the market and potentially increase sales to customers. After the production process is improved, the selling and distribution network will need to be established. Currently, the facilities department (the same one that currently purchases the biodiesel), has been purchasing the soap. They have been testing the soap and touted its effectiveness as a degreaser. The Delta Chi fraternity is a potential lead that is interested in the soap. I have met with the house mom and the house manager and they have expressed a lot of interest in using the soap to clean the floors in the house and as an all-purpose cleaner. Hopefully, establishing the product’s use within Delta Chi will initiate the expansion of soap commercialization to other fraternities, sororities, and even potentially the Scholarship Halls.
Once the appropriate products and consumers have been identified, production will need to be scaled up to produce the soap in bulk. Up until this point, small batches have been the primary way of producing the soap, which yields about 1 bottle (approximately 20 fluid ounces) of finished soap product. Large batches of the soap have been produced, proving that we will be able to meet the demand of customers as our customer-base grows.
There is essentially no regulation to market a product as a soap. However, to claim that it is a disinfectant or that it has other properties, the soap becomes classified as a drug and must receive certification from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Unfortunately, it would be too expensive and take too much time to get our product certified by the FDA. There are other certifications that I plan to apply for, which would help to market our soap in the community. One of these is the Safer Choice certification from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Safer Choice certification recognizes that the product has been tested and the ingredients were examined to determine that there are no adverse health effects or environmental damage in the production and use of our soap. Preliminary research has indicated that the Safer Choice certification is a rather expensive and time-consuming process (approximately $3000), with continuing costs since the soap must be audited annually to ensure the recipe still meets the Safer Choice certification standards. Thus, it must be evaluated if the potential increase in customers and profit can justify these costs.
Still discussing timeline with Andrew Doerflinger to determine a more accurate schedule.
There are a few goals that I have for this capstone project. The first goal is to reduce the production cost of the soap. This will challenge me to find creative ways to improve the current process and improve my leadership skills as I manage team members and delegate responsibilities. Another goal I have is to expand the customer-base and begin to sell soap outside of the department of facilities. This will require me to communicate effectively to potential clients and improve my interpersonal skills to get potential clients to buy the soap.
While working on this project over the next year and a half, I will periodically assess how the project is going relative to the timeline that I have set. I will also evaluate my progress by asking myself the guiding questions in the following section.
• What did I do to overcome potential challenges as they arose?
• What are my favorite and least favorite aspects of this project?
• What have I learned about this industry?
• How can I use the knowledge and skills that I have gained while working on this project to my advantage when I start my career?
Still discussing budget with Andrew Doerflinger to determine a more accurate values.
The project results will be communicated in a formal report. This will include detailed methods, procedures, experimental results, and sales figures of the soap commercialization. This will be completed by the end of the Spring 2018 semester.
A cost analysis and packaging product details will be included in the final proposal. Working with Andrew Doerflinger to determine actual figures.
...(download the rest of the essay above)