UNL hand sanitizer

An industrial-sized hand sanitizer pump was designed by UNL to help stem the spread of COVID-19 on campus.

Gigantic hand sanitizer dispensers sporting the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s logo are appearing on UNL’s campus and throughout the state.

The dispensers were designed to promote health and safety as the university prepares to welcome students onto campus this fall. The big idea to create these oversize sanitizer dispensers started with a professor’s brainstorm and developed rapidly, according to Jim Jackson, associate vice chancellor for University Operations.

“I got a call one night from Hunter Flodman, a professor in our chemical engineering department, who had a vision of making hand sanitizers,” Jackson said. “Hunter said, ‘I need to set this up, but I need a tent, and need to have it manufactured in within two days.’

“I knew it was critical to support this effort, and it was early in the COVID time. I knew if we were going to do it, we needed to go all in, which would also support our institution’s vision of re-opening.”

Flodman, an assistant professor of chemical engineering, said something just needed to happen, to make huge quantities available. During a conference call with Nebraska Ethanol Board chairman Jan tenBensel and Jeff Carver of BASF, Flodman took a vital first step.

BASF offered to send tanker trucks for free in order to ship products used to make the hand sanitizers.

“We called ethanol plants, and the prison where they were making (sanitizers), but nobody was making large quantities,” he said. “We knew it was needed to help meet the needs of the state of Nebraska, and decided to do it ourselves.”

The university’s Food Processing Center was already making 25,000 gallons of FDA-approved hand sanitizer for campus use, courtesy of a donation of 21,000 gallons of ethanol from Green Plains Inc. When the COVID-19 pandemic was peaking in early April, housing staff began creating the oversize sanitizer units out of PVC pipe to meet the greater need for sanitation. They’re 4 feet tall, with cross sections of pipe throughout, and attached to a quarter-ounce dispenser nozzle to prevent over-use. Using a cart with a with a 30-gallon transfer tank, UNL staff can pump fresh sanitizer into the emptied dispensers.

UNL has produced more than 110,000 gallons of hand sanitizer. Of that, 25,000 gallons were used at the university. Now they’re making 60,000 gallons for K-12 schools throughout Nebraska with donations from Green Plains, Cargill, University Printing Services, Syngenta, Phillips 66 and 20 other companies that donated raw materials and services.

University officials have distributed at least 200 dispensers across campus so far. They plan to distribute the dispensers to 1,000 campus locations in Lincoln including student housing, a wall dispenser in every elevator, Campus Recreation, the student unions, athletics, and at county Extension offices and statewide facilities.

UNL is sharing its mega-dispenser design with Big 10 schools and the Nebraska State Fair. Fair officials expect to decide by July 1 whether to hold the state fair this year, due to COVID-19.

UNL’s fall semester begins a week earlier this year, on Aug. 17, with “asynchronous” remote learning. A week later, on Aug. 24, in-person instruction begins. Fall break has been suspended and students will instead take a three-week remote learning session Nov. 30 to Dec. 18.

UNL adjusted the fall schedule to help reduce travel, to help avoid the spread of COVID-19.

Campus officials, on their website, remind anyone of personal preventative measures suggested by the CDC include washing hands often with soap and water; using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer; avoiding the touching of eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands; avoid close contact with individuals who are sick; staying home if you are sick; covering a cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throwing the tissue in the trash; and cleaning/disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces.

“Jim and the university really stepped up to make this important hand sanitizer project successful and get the job done,” Flodman said.

Amy Hadachek can be reached at editorial@midwestmessenger.com.

Amy Hadachek is a freelance writer who lives on a farm with her husband in North Central Kansas. She's also a meteorologist and storm chaser. Amy can be reached at editorial@midwestmessenger.com.