In 2006, a small multi-disciplinary group of students led by Ilya Tabakh, approached Dr. Susan Williams with the idea to collect used cooking oil from campus and process it into biodiesel for use in campus applications. Over the year the students and Dr. Williams worked to develop a proposal which was presented to the KU Student Senate asking for $15,000 to purchase a turn-key biodiesel reactor and a manual flashpoint machine, the lab's first testing instrument. Dr. Williams proposed to house the reactor in a laboratory in Burt Hall. In 2007, the KU Student Senate generously awarded the funding, and the Kansas Biodiesel Initiative (KUBI) was formed.
In the fall of 2012, the KUBI was fortunate enough to find a new home in the Measurement, Materials and Sustainable Environment Center (M2SEC), an interdisciplinary research facility located in the School of Engineering Complex. The pilot scale production facility is located adjacent to a research laboratory and an analytical laboratory capable of testing fuel and feedstock properties. The fuel testing capabilities makes KUBI unique among other collegiate biodiesel producers around the country.
Over time, the turn-key biodiesel production system has been significantly modified to improve efficiency, safety, and sustainability. In fact, the only part of the original system that remains today is the reaction vessels. Soap production, methanol recovery and recycle, and a fuel blending station have been added to the KUBI operations. However, the mission of the KUBI, to provide education, research and outreach related to biodiesel has remained constant.