Trinity Senior Designs Car that Runs on Waste Vegetable Oil

Professor Alden Gordon ’69 believes his father, who died in 1999, would have been quite pleased to learn that his 1985 Mercedes Benz, which he bequeathed to his son and which his son donated to Trinity, has been put to good use: advancing students’ knowledge of and appreciation for sustainability.

The white sedan, a little worn for the wear but otherwise in good shape, was parked much of the time in the Trinity Commons or Buildings and Grounds parking lots waiting for lightning to strike. It did this past spring when Han Wu ’13, an engineering major from China, met with success in his senior project, which involved redesigning the diesel-powered Mercedes to run on waste vegetable oil.

Although this is not the first time that a diesel car has been converted to run on waste or regular vegetable oil, many of the cars have run into problems, including the car having to start on diesel fuel before switching to the vegetable oil. The key to getting the car to
perform was figuring out a way to heat the oil to a high enough temperature so that it wouldn’t need to rely on diesel fuel to start.

(l-r) Han Wu '13, Professor John Mertens, and Professor Alden Gordon

(l-r) Han Wu ’13, Professor John Mertens, and Professor Alden Gordon

Wu, who was salutatorian for the Class of 2013, was accepted into Stanford University for a two-year master’s degree program in mechanical engineering.

Gordon, Paul E. Raether Distinguished Professor of Fine Arts and a Trinity alumnus, and Wu’s mentor, Professor of Engineering John Mertens, hope that the car can be used to benefit the College: a nice paint job, a few more modifications, and the Mercedes could be used as a campus shuttle or for some other laudable purpose.