February 27, 2007
Tifton -- An innovative high school teacher wants his students to solve the nation's dependence on foreign oil, and they started at home, helping their school system save big bucks.
It's as American as you will find; hungry teenagers, French fries and ketchup. "When we have French fries at school I always eat them. Always," says Danielle Day a student at Tift County High School.
Frying okra, chicken and French fries always causes a problem later: What to do with the used cooking oil? The school system throws away more than five thousand gallons of it, but may not have to much longer.
A few doors down from the lunchroom, in a shop that looks more like a chemistry lab, a futuristic thinking teacher and his teenaged students are on the verge of saving taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars in fuel costs by finding a new use for the lunchrooms' thrown-away cooking oil.
"Learning to make alternative fuels. Our goal is to power one school bus from the oil produced in our lunchrooms," says Jimmy Cargle, a veteran agriculture teacher who stresses the science of growing the nation's food and fiber.
His students make their own all-natural fuel called biodiesel. "Any oils from plants and from animals. They're making it from chicken fat," says Jimmy.
Plus, precise amounts of methanol and potassium hydroxide, commonly called lye, mixed with warmed cooking oil turn trash into a fuel treasure.
"It's 23 cents a gallon for biodiesel and $2.50 for diesel," says Marvin Chaney, a senior.
If their school bus experiment goes as planned, the Tift County school system could save about $1,200 in fuel a year for each diesel powered bus. A savings that would open the eyes of skeptics about homemade fuels.
"The biodiesel is ready to go in the tractor," says Josh Miller, another senior, after he tests the latest batch of biodiesel for the proper ph.
They use an old diesel tractor to test their idea, a tractor more than 20 years old with more than nine thousand hours of engine time. Converting the engine cost next to nothing- $23.56 with more benefits besides its ultra-low conversion cost.
"Cleaner emissions and it gives you more horsepower," says Trey Payne, a senior, who fabricated the bracket that holds a metal barrel on the front of the tractor that holds the biodiesel. A small black hose carries the new fuel to the engine.
Biodiesel has an inherent problem. When it gets cold it gets so thick that it won't start an engine.
The future-thinking teacher and his energetic students solved that problem by starting the engine on diesel fuel and then switching to biodiesel a few seconds later.
They expect the idea to dig in when more people know the ease of making the fuel themselves, saving as much as $2.25 per gallon.
Jamie May, a senior, says he can tell when an engine is powered by biodiesel.
"It smells like French fries. Smells pretty good."
Because a forward thinking high school teacher realized his students must become big wheels in understanding the science of energy independence.
The group's effort received an award, winning first place in Georgia's Youth Environmental Symposium last week with their special project.