Students at the Center for Advanced Technical Studies (The Center) hope to shine light on the value of alternative fuels and switching to biodiesels.
Capping a year-long project, students at the Lexington-Richland District Five school debuted their biodiesel car Sept. 2 at the Chapin Labor Day parade. The 1975 diesel Mercedes runs solely on biodiesel, which students made last year from recycled restaurant oil as part of a class assignment. Students in The Center’s Clean Energy Technology Program and Automotive Technology Program worked collaboratively on the biodiesel vehicle, school officials say.
“The whole point was to show that we can transition away from fossil-based fuel sources and do that in a sustainable way, said Patrick Smallwood, a clean energy technology instructor at The Center. “We’re using a nontraditional, nonfossil-based fuel in biodiesel, and then we’re using it in a sustainable manner because the kids are literally recycling waste that would otherwise be thrown away.”
Interest in alternative energy has increased nationwide as experts search for the best ways to run the cars, trucks and other equipment of the future on fuels other than oil. At The Center, students in the Clean Energy Technology Program already are beginning to think of possible solutions to tomorrow’s energy challenges. The program exposes them to some of the major sources of renewable energy like wind, solar and biofuels and engages students in hands-on projects.
Students like Sam Rennick, who worked on The Center’s biodiesel car, said the key to growing alternative fuels lies in educating the public. While featuring the biodiesel car at the parade, he said he heard some common misconceptions about biodiesels.
“I learned a great deal about biodiesel by making it myself in the Alternative Energy classroom at The Center. However, I learned even more about the public’s perception of biodiesel by participating in the parade,” Rennick said. “…Our class simply took waste restaurant oil and made biodiesel. We really need to educate the public more about the use of this waste-to-fuel technology.”
School officials at The Center hope to create other biodiesel-operated vehicles and work with South Carolina recycling company Midlands Biofuels on projects. Last month, Lexington-Richland 5, the District 5 Foundation for Educational Excellence (D5FEE) and Midlands Biofuels signed an agreement to encourage local restaurants to sell their used cooking oil to Midlands Biofuels.
As part of the new Biodiesel 4 District 5 Schools initiative, a percentage of the payment for each gallon of cooking oil purchased by or donated to Midlands Biofuels will be given back to the Foundation to be used for education grants and projects in the district. Lexington-Richland 5 is the first district in South Carolina to implement the Biofuels 4 Schools initiative.
For students and teachers at The Center, making a biodiesel car shows that alternative energy is practical.
“Anyone that wanted to do what we did, could potentially do it,” said Smallwood, adding that for the particular model of car they used and many older cars no special conversion parts are required. “ It’s not hard to convert the used oil into fuel, and just a few simple ingredients allows you to do that. The general public, if they wanted, could do this. It’s not something that’s too far-fetched.”