Profile: Reagan Hurla
Kansas State University (Manhattan, Kansas)
Biological Systems Engineering (undergrad)

Reagan Hurla's biodiesel journey began in the spring semester of 2020. Through the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering at Kansas State University, she learned about the KSU Biodiesel Initiative.

"As someone who has always been interested in renewable energy, I was excited to attend a meeting and quickly became a member," she said. "The program has introduced me to a group of peers with interests similar to mine. It has also given me real world experiences working on the biodiesel production line."

Hurla, who grew up in Maple Hill, Kan., now mostly works with glycerin separation and distillation in the biodiesel production process at KSU. The plant's primary feedstock is waste cooking oil generated from campus dining. This has helped her gain experience with the additional testing and reactions that come with making biodiesel from recycled cooking oil.

In 2020, she began an undergraduate research position in the Bioseparation and Bioprocessing Lab. Initially, her research with Dr. Lisa Wilken focused on collaborating with the KSU Biodiesel Initiative to increase biodiesel production, improve quality control and testing methods, and analyze the production process. However, it evolved into creating a "closed loop" production process (reducing waste).

"Through the design and testing of different glycerin refinery methods, we aim to use the treated glycerin in a biobased product, specifically hand soap, which can be used in campus facilities or donated to our campus food pantry," Hurla said. "This has taught me a lot about the biodiesel waste stream and how it can be properly refined and used in biobased products."

Her current career goal is to attend graduate school. She wants to continue learning about bioprocessing and biobased product production.

"The biodiesel industry is constantly progressing, and my goal is to continue to develop my education to a level where I can contribute my knowledge to the dynamic field of low-carbon fuel," she said. "My work at KSU has been a wonderful experience and significantly expanded my biodiesel knowledge. It has also given me many opportunities to meet experts within the industry."

Hurla collaborated with the Loyola University biodiesel lab to help with the KSU operating procedures and usage of refining glycerin. She has also attended a sustainability workshop as well as the National Biodiesel Conference & Expo through a Kansas Soybean Commission sponsorship.

"As research on the Kansas State Biodiesel Initiative waste stream has progressed, I have developed a greater appreciation for the biodiesel industry, as well as a love for the bioseparation and bioprocessing aspects of engineering," she said.

Hurla said being a co-chair of the Next Generation Scientists for Biodiesel will help her continue to develop her education to a level where she can contribute to the dynamic field of low-carbon fuel. She also looks forward to sharing her technical and communication skills with other students to help in their development, while networking with a wide range of experts in the field.

Reagan Hurla, a Kansas State University student studying biological systems engineering, in the biodiesel lab.

The National Biodiesel Board is funded in part by the United Soybean Board and state soybean board checkoff programs.