After-school program in energy
October 24, 2006
CARBONDALE – This past week, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries decided to reduce the production of crude oil by 1.2 million barrels a day to increase prices. Why? Because the price of gasoline is not high enough.Some of the teachers at the Colorado Rocky Mountain School had an idea. It’s not an original idea – in fact it’s been around for a while. The school has instituted an after-school program that teaches students the importance of alternative fuels. Not only the importance of, but how to make biodiesel fuel as well.”Biodiesel is the fastest-growing form of alternative fuel in the world,” said literature teacher Smith Maddrey, who also coordinates the biodiesel program.The whole idea was influenced by someone who was driving a car that ran on vegetable oil, Maddrey said. The next step was to figure out how to incorporate a program with the school. Maddrey and a couple of colleagues sketched out the idea for the program on a napkin and began collecting oil from the deep fryers in the school’s kitchen, he said. “Information on how to make the fuel is out there,” he said. “We also called some other biodiesel producers to gain more knowledge of how they do it.”A jarful of the fuel was made to see how involved the process was. In 2002 the program was started with that single batch of fuel, and since then it’s been full steam ahead, so to speak.”We bought a 1986 Ford F-350 diesel, and that has sort of been our mascot,” he said.
One of the school’s graduates, Dustin Bowers, spent last summer in the Philippines on the beach playing with coconuts all day. But he wasn’t there to relax, he was there to prove that he could accomplish something.”I went after my dad had spent some time there and told me about the exorbitant amount of coconuts,” said Bowers, now in his sophomore year at Reed College in Portland, Ore. “The Philippines have a lot of resources to create biodiesel going to waste – we just decided not to let it go to waste anymore.”So Bowers, all of 19 years old, spent his summer developing a biodiesel plant. DB Coco Diesel, a privately funded facility in the northern Philippines town of Taytay, Palawan, produces 100 percent coconut diesel fuel for the people of the region. The plant can produce 150 gallons of fuel per day and is used to run generators, boats and most of the diesel-powered cars in the islands.”Pretty much anything with a diesel engine can run off this fuel,” he said.The project turned out to be a gift for the Filipinos and for Bowers as well.”Working with them was frustrating and amusing,” he said. “There is no such thing as incapability, whether to communicate, effect change or improve one’s status.”He acquired his knowledge during the after-school program in his junior year at the Colorado Rocky Mountain School. Maddrey said Bowers was being a unique student.”He had the ability to marry the knowledge of science with the natural world,” Maddrey said. “He had drive and was very much an independent thinker.”
Eight students participate in the Colorado Rocky Mountain School’s alternative-energy program annually, learning the aspects of creating and producing biodiesel. There are a few different grades of biodiesel, but the students produce B100, which is a pure biodiesel fuel. Another type, B20, is 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent diesel. The school’s buses currently run on B20.
“We’ve tried to get the school on board with the program,” Maddrey said. “The truck was an emblem of what we could do.”The difference between vehicles that run on biodiesel and vegetable oil is any diesel vehicles can run on biodiesel but require a chemical reaction to the oil in order for it to work. Vegetable oil vehicles require a modification to the engine.”Biodiesel is more mainstream,” Maddrey said. “Vegetable oil is perceived as more of an outlaw alternative.”The point of the biodiesel program is really more than just how to make an alternative fuel. “We’re about education,” Maddrey said. “We try to get the word out about alternative fuels, but we also educate through making the fuel.”The program doesn’t make a profit off the fuel but rather just burns it up in the school buses. But the rewards are still there.”If these students go out and spread the word about biodiesel then that is a positive thing,” Maddrey said. “We are making role models.”Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado