UNL making oversized hand sanitation dispensers

Amy Hadchek
for The Fence Post
Jim Jackson, associate vice chancellor, University Operations and FM&P Building Systems Maintenance moves one of the hand sanitizer mega units.
Photo by Gregory Nathan/University Communication

With the University of Nebraska-Lincoln specific plan now in place to bring students on-campus this fall semester on a rolling basis, safety and preventative health measures just got pumped up.

With the realization that more than 100 gallons of hand sanitizer would be needed per day when the campus fully re-opens for fall classes, UNL’s Forward to Fall staff has uniquely designed special oversized sanitizer dispensers sporting a massive UNL logo, which are being erected across campus and into the community.

Housing staff began assembling the mega units in early April when the COVID-19 pandemic began peaking, creating them out of PVC pipe, and making them about 4 feet tall, with cross sections of pipe throughout. The entire contraption is attached to a quarter-ounce dispenser nozzle, to prevent over-use. Now, university officials have distributed at least 200 dispensers across campus including the UNL Children’s Center, and several places where people are returning to campus. They have a large plan to distribute the dispensers to 1,000 campus locations in Lincoln including student housing, a wall dispenser in every elevator, campus recreation areas, the student unions, athletics, at county extension offices, and statewide facilities, after receiving support of the state fire marshal and code officials.

Interestingly, the team uses a cart with a 30-gallon transfer tank that can pump fresh sanitizer into the emptied dispensers. They devised that concept since each large dispenser holds about 3 gallons of hand sanitizer.

The university’s Food Processing Center was already making 25,000 gallons of Food and Drug Administration-approved hand sanitizer for campus use, thanks to a donation of 21,000 gallons of ethanol from Green Plains, and their continued generous support.

Here’s how the large idea developed to create these oversize sanitizer dispensers said 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 reached out to me (I never met him) and he said, ‘I need to set this up, but I need a tent, and need to have it manufactured within two days.’” I said, “Let me think about this Hunter and I spent two hours thinking, and knew it was critical to support this effort, and it was early on in the COVID time. I knew if, we were going to do it, we needed to go all in and support his vision, which would also support our institution’s vision of re-opening,” Jackson said.

To help the community through COVID-19, Jackson’s staff met with several departments. “We had no sanitizers, no disinfectant. Can we make it? Can Hunter deliver? Yes, he said he could, and then it was time for us to step up and help him with distribution, which we did. Hunter makes sanitizers and we distributed it to frontline workers. We’ve also supplied hospitals, emergency management, state patrol, fire departments, nursing homes, daycare centers, county workers and other frontline support,” Jackson said.

Flodman said it dawned on him during a conference call, that even with offers for free ingredients to make the hand sanitizers, that something beyond that needed to take shape to make huge quantities that are needed.

“I was on a conference call in early April with the chair of the Nebraska Ethanol Board Jan tenBensel and myself (I serve as technical adviser) and Jeff Carver BASF chemical company. BASF offered to send tanker trucks large quantity for free, to ship products to make the hand sanitizers,” said Flodman, Ph.D., assistant professor chemical engineering at UNL. “We called around to ethanol plants, including the prison where they were making them, but we found out that nobody was making large quantities, but we knew it was needed to help meet the needs of the state of Nebraska. We just decided to do it ourselves, because it was needed,” Flodman said.

They also needed a place to do it. “That’s when I came to Jim (Jackson) and knew we had the resources and a plan to do it. Jim and the university really stepped up to make this successful and get the job done,” Flodman said.

“We’ve now produced over 110,000 gallons of hand sanitizer, and 25,000 gallons of that went just to the university. We’re making 60,000 gallons now for K-12 schools throughout Nebraska. But in addition to Green Plains, Cargill, University Printing Services, there are also 20 companies that donated raw materials and services to get the project of making dispensers accomplished, including Syngenta and Phillips 66,” Flodman said.

Jackson is also sharing the design of these oversize dispensers with schools in the ‘Big 10.’ Hunter is working with the Nebraska State Fair to distribute the oversized hand sanitizer dispensers. Fair officials expect to make a decision on or before July 1, regarding holding the fair this year, due to COVID-19.

UNL’s fall semester begins Monday, Aug. 17 with classes starting (on asynchronous) remote learning basis. Then, on Monday, Aug. 24 in-person instruction will begin for courses that have an in-person component.

Also, fall break has been suspended, and classes will meet Oct. 19-20. Additionally, final exams will take place Nov. 21 to 25, so that the regular fall semester will be completed before Thanksgiving.

As UNL Chancellor Ronnie D. Green, Ph.D. put it, in a statement, “Shifting and compressing this fall schedule will help to reduce travel that can result in increased spread of COVID-19. It will also give us greater flexibility should there be a resurgence of infections later in the fall.”

The hand sanitizer stations are among key protective measures that the university will have in place for its return to on-campus instruction for the fall 2020 semester. Other safety protocols will follow federal, state and local health recommendations.

Personal preventative measures suggested by the Centers for Disease Control 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, avoiding 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.

Jackson said he expects demand for the oversize sanitizer dispensers to grow, and has already received inquiries from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Nebraska school districts and the Nebraska Forest Service, among many others. ❖

— Hadachek is a freelance writer who lives on a farm with her husband in north central Kansas and is also a meteorologist and storm chaser. She can be reached at