UC student converts waste grease to biofuel at city sewer district

Chemical engineering student led pilot project at Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati

Andres Mata’s research for his master’s degree in chemical engineering at the University of Cincinnati could result in a greener fuel source. Mata, who was awarded Graduate Student Engineer of the Month from UC’s College of Engineering and Applied Science, was the lead graduate student working on a pilot project to extract lipids from grease at wastewater treatment plants for biodiesel production.

Why did you choose UC to study chemical engineering?

headshot of Andres Mata

Andres Mata. Photo/provided.

I choose to come to UC because of its strong connections to companies in the Cincinnati area. Also, I am originally from Northern Kentucky and I was able to take advantage of UC’s generous Metropolitan Rate. 

I chose chemical engineering because I have always enjoyed problem-solving and chemistry. I majored in chemical engineering in undergrad and I wanted to continue studying it in graduate school.  

Describe your research work. What is the end goal?

My research uses waste cooking oil to extract lipids from waste grease at wastewater treatment plants. This allows a feedstock for biodiesel production, while also decreases the amount of waste grease sent to landfills. I was given the task of taking this technology from the lab-scale to the pilot scale. This interested me because it required me to apply many of the chemical engineering principles I learned in the classroom. 

The end goal of my research is to determine if this technology is economically feasible at a commercial scale. If it is possible, then this will open up the opportunity to help reduce waste and provide a feedstock for greener fuel. 

What are some of the most impactful experiences during your time at UC?

My biggest accomplishment is designing my own pilot system for processing waste grease and bringing it to life with my own hands, then installing it at the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati. I am also proud that I was able to compete in the Air and Waste Management Association Environmental Challenge International in 2020 and my team finished in second place.

I have had the opportunity to present my research at conferences, participate in conference competitions, lead meetings with supervisors at wastewater treatment plants, and supervise undergraduate students working as research co-ops in the lab led by Mingming Lu, professor of environmental engineering. These experiences all helped me improve my public speaking and communication skills.

Outside of school, I co-founded a ministry at my church, where we tutor teenagers from the Latino community.  

What motivates you to push toward your goals?

My family and my community are my main motivation to strive for success. As a first-generation college student, I feel that I have to prove myself by going above and beyond in everything that I do. My family comes from Central America where access to education is very limited. I want to be the best example to others that share a similar background. 

My future hopes are to be hired full-time in a chemical engineering role and pursue an MBA. I would like to then go on to start a business of my own that involves engineering. 

Featured image at top: the pilot system for processing waste grease that Mata designed to test at the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati. Photo/provided.

three men stand in front of large metal equipment on a truck

Andres Mata, right, poses with Art Helmstetter, co-PI for the biofuel pilot project and COO of Ecosil Technologies LLC, and UC chemical engineering undergraduate Kevin Johnson, who also worked on the project as a co-op. They are standing in front of the system built to process waste grease. Photo/provided.

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