Running on vegetable oil: Indian Springs teacher, student practice use of alternative fuel

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 31, 2007

When Gregory Sizemore needs to fill his 1984 Mercedes 300 up with gas he doesn&8217;t make a right into the local BP or Chevron station. Instead, Sizemore, a senior at Indian Springs School, drives down the long gravel road behind to a small wooden building.

Indian Springs&8217;s biology teacher Bob Pollard has been working out of this shed for months, on a project to create biodiesel fuel for the school&8217;s tractors and two buses.

&8220;The benefit here is two fold,&8221; Pollard said. &8220;It&8217;s a good teaching tool, and the kids know they are riding in a bus that is less harmful to the environment.&8221;

According to the National Biodiesel Board, biodiesel is a clean burning alternative fuel that can be produced by breaking down the components in vegetable oil.

&8220;One of the major advantages to using biofuels comes from the amount you cut down on CO2 emissions,&8221; Pollard said. &8220;Using 100 percent biodiesel cuts the lifecycle of CO2 emissions up to 75 percent, which is great because CO2 is one of the most harmful emissions to the environment.&8221;

To create the fuel, Pollard and students visit the local Fish Market restaurant to get donated waste vegetable oil. The oil is then brought back to the home made processing center that starts with an 80-gallon hot water tank.

The tank is modified to allow the oil to be heated to 130 degrees and then pumped into a mixing tank. Step two includes mixing the oil with methynol and sodium hydroxide. Once that mixture circulates for two hours the combination is allowed to sit for at least 24 hours or until it becomes biodiesel and its by-product glycerin. Finally, the biodiesel is pumped into a wash tank for the impurities from the glycerin to be cleaned and strained out of the fuel. Once produced the biodiesel can be blended with petroleum diesel to be used in many diesel engines without a lot of prior modifications.

This last step is how Pollard and later Sizemore were able to run the school&8217;s buses on biodiesel, along with testing the fuel on their own cars.

At first, Pollard said he wasn&8217;t sure if it was a project the school could take on but after getting support from Indian Springs&8217;s Office of Development, Pollard moved forward. Alumni of the school provided about $2000 in funding for the project.

&8220;The more people using this stuff the better off for all of us,&8221; Pollard said. &8220;If more interest builds up we hope to develop a co-op with people collecting oil and learning how to come and help us produce more fuel.&8221;

The entire production process takes two and a half days. Pollard said his goal is to run two batches every five days, which would equal to about 100 gallons; enough to run all of the school&8217;s vehicles strictly on biodiesel for the week.

Sizemore said as a student at Indian Springs there were a lot of draws to the project.

&8220;My main interest initially was getting a car converted and not paying for gas anymore,&8221; Sizemore said. &8220;But it&8217;s also a great way to learn. We aren&8217;t just saying everyone else needs to do this &045; we are doing it.&8221;