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Can a Class Project Become a Business? '14s Give It a Shot.

Oct 15, 2013   |   by Keith Chapman   |   Dartmouth Now

When Sarah Alexander ’14 studied in Delhi, she was struck by how much cooking oil street vendors use in preparing traditional Indian dishes. But she was more taken aback after discovering what happens to the oil afterward.

Many vendors sell their waste cooking oil to other vendors who can’t afford to buy fresh oil, Alexander learned. This practice is not only unsanitary, she says, but increases the amount of carcinogens in the oil. Oil that isn’t sold secondhand is often washed down drains, which can clog sewer systems and pollute water sources.

Meegan Daigler
Meegan Daigler ’14

Alexander returned to Dartmouth from Delhi during her sophomore year, and soon thereafter enrolled in an environmental course. For their final project, the professor asked students to come up with a solution to an environmental problem. Alexander immediately had an idea: She teamed up with classmate [and engineering major] Meegan Daigler ’14 to try to find a healthier way, for people and the environment, to dispose of or recycle waste oil in India’s second largest city.

Their solution? Daigler and Alexander had the idea of creating a company that buys used cooking oil from the vendors, and then sells it as fuel to drivers of diesel-powered cars—which in India account for about 50 percent of all automobiles, according to Alexander. Alexander says it takes a simple, low-cost process to prepare waste vegetable oil to be used as automobile fuel.

The environmental studies course ended, but Daigler and Alexander couldn’t stop talking about their idea.

“We wanted to see if this works,” says Alexander. “One day we just sort of looked at each other and said, we need to give this a shot.”

Alexander and Daigler will travel together to Delhi for the month of December to research the project further and talk with some of the country’s estimated 10 million street vendors. In particular, the Dartmouth students want to get a better sense of how much oil costs the vendors, how much oil they use, and how they dispose of it...

...Alexander, an environmental studies major, understands India’s culture, having studied in Delhi and being of Indian heritage. Daigler, an engineering and environmental studies double major, knows a lot about biodiesel fuel, having spent two summers aboard the diesel-powered Big Green Bus.

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