As Loyola prepares to switch gears from the summer to fall semester, one way the university plans on keeping campus clean is with sanitizers made in Loyola’s own Searle Biodiesel Lab.
The Searle Biodiesel Lab — a Loyola laboratory meant for interns and student researchers to do hands-on learning — located in Loyola’s Institute of Environmental Sustainability converts waste products such as cooking oil from campus cafeterias into renewable, usable products on campus. Some of the lab’s products include fuel for the university’s intercampus shuttle buses and BioSoap — the university’s own soap available across campus.
This July, the lab was repurposed to develop hand sanitizer for the university after the lab went idle in the spring due to the university closing and no longer having a demand for soap on campus.
Searle Biodiesel Lab Manager Zach Waickman saw an opportunity to utilize the lab to help the university during the unique circumstances of a global pandemic.
Waickman said he researched which products would likely become short supply and found the most popular was hand sanitizer. The question came up, “Well, can we make this?”
Waickman said the lab on Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus already had the proper equipment needed to make sanitizer. Because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) temporarily allowed non-traditional manufacturers to develop sanitizer, Waickman was FDA approved within weeks and was producing hundreds of gallons of sanitizer for use on Loyola’s three Chicago campuses, according to IES Dean Nancy Tuchman.
“Since our dorm cafeterias haven’t been open since March, and there is no waste vegetable oil coming to us from deep fat fryers that we can convert into biodiesel, why not pivot biodiesel production to something that is relevant, useful, and in short supply for the University?” Tuchman said.
The last step and biggest challenge was sourcing ingredients and containers for the sanitizer because they were in high demand, according to Waickman.
Ethanol and plastic bottles were two items needed to create the hand sanitizer and through connections in his professional network and past distributors, Waickman was able to secure both. The hand sanitizer is available in pocket-sized packaging and wall mounts across campus.
While students aren’t returning to campus this semester for classes or residence — The Phoenix previously reported — Loyola’s campuses are still open and are in need of sanitizer, according to Waickman.
“The volume of product that we’re anticipating we’re going to need over the next semester is lower, but our overall approach to the project has not changed because we’re still preparing for an eventual safe return to campus,” Waickman said.
With the additional time to prepare for students to return to campus, the lab was able to create what Waickman describes as a “menu of solutions.” A separate production of surface sanitizer and sanitizing wipes has since been started.
“We rolled out as many things as we can in many different versions as we could to make sure it works in all these situations,” Waickman said.