By Xanthe Galanis
Last Thursday afternoon eight biotechnology honours students donned their racing gear and took to the Great Field to put their biodiesel, made from leftover cooking oil, to the test. This race was the first of its kind in the country and one of the first in the world.
The four teams of two raced lawnmowers powered by secret blends of sunflower oil and animal fat, sourced from the university’s dining halls and local restaurants, to test the speed and efficiency of different blends of biofuel. Each team competed in two races; a two-lap race to test endurance and a sprint race to test speed.
The teams started their engines and the smell of slap chips wafted across the field. “Our digestive juices will be well oiled by lunch time!” said Mark Hazell, manager of Grounds and Gardens. The students have been experimenting with different proportions of sunflower oil to animal fat.
Their tutor, Nash Ragubeer, explained that the sunflower oil heated up the engines and the animal fat gives it power. “Animal fat is denser, it needs to be heated up before it gives you power,” he said. It being a warm day, less sunflower oil was needed to heat the engines up, and the teams with more animal fat proved the fastest.
Ultimately, Hayley Broadley’s and Sarah Jones’ concoction came out tops, making them the overall winners of the race.
Dr Janice Limson from Rhodes’ biochemistry, microbiology and biotechnology department hosted the event. “We’re putting science directly into action, we hope to demonstrate that science is relevant,” she said.
Hazell, together with Dr Garth Cambray of Makana Meadery supported the race. Cambray has been producing biofuel at the meadery for some time and his own bakkie has already done over 15 000kms on it.
Biofuels are cleaner burning than regular diesel and petrol fuels and emit up to 100% less carbon monoxide.
Africa has recently come under the spotlight as international investors pledge billions of dollars to buy crops like maize, sugar and soy to produce biofuel.
Hazell hopes that in the not too distant future mowers will be permanently run on biofuel.“We’re going to be well-oiled,” he said, “Rhodes looked at the environmental policy in 1997 and here we are oiling up these machines and becoming very green.”