Student-made biodiesel car rides in Chapin Labor Day parade

Students in the Clean Energy Technology and Automotive Technology programs at the Center for Advanced Technical Studies worked collaboratively on this biodiesel vehicle. Photo courtesy of Lexington-Richland Five.

Students in the Clean Energy Technology and Automotive Technology programs at the Center for Advanced Technical Studies worked collaboratively on this biodiesel vehicle. Photo courtesy of Lexington-Richland Five.

Months of work by local students led to a special debut during Chapin’s Labor Day parade this year. With the goal of highlighting the benefits of alternative energy, innovative teens rolled out a biodiesel car.

The students created the car at Lexington-Richland Five’s Center for Advanced Technical Studies. Not only did the project give them valuable hands-on experience, it helped them learn about the importance of new fuels and how to share the facts with others.

As unveiled on Monday, the 1975 diesel Mercedes runs solely on biodiesel. Students fashioned the fuel last year from recycled restaurant oil.

“The whole point was to show that we can transition away from fossil-based fuel sources and do that in a sustainable way,” explained Patrick Smallwood, a Clean Energy Technology Instructor at the Center. “We’re using a nontraditional, non-fossil-based fuel in biodiesel, and then we’re using it in a sustainable manner – the kids are literally recycling waste that would otherwise be thrown away.”

The project is right in line with national interest and allowed students to think about the future of energy as they might one day see it. In addition to biodiesel, the students studied other renewable sources of energy including wind and solar.

Student Sam Rennick, who worked on biodiesel car, added that the key to growing alternative fuels lies in educating the public and eliminating misconceptions like those he heard at the parade.

“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.”

For students and teachers at the center, making a biodiesel car shows that alternative energy is practical.

A look at the oil-to-fuel conversion process. Photo courtesy of Lexington-Richland Five.

A look at the oil-to-fuel conversion process. Photo courtesy of Lexington-Richland Five.

“Anyone who wanted to do what we did could potentially do it,” Smallwood said. “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.”

He added that many older cars won’t require special conversion parts to use biodiesel.

School officials hope the biodiesel car is the first of many that will result from students’ hard work. They also plan to work with South Carolina recycling company Midlands Biofuels. Last month, Lexington-Richland Five, the District 5 Foundation for Educational Excellence (D5FEE) and Midlands Biofuels signed an agreement to ask local restaurants to sell their used cooking oil to Midlands Biofuels.

Through the brand-new Biodiesel 4 District 5 Schools initiative, a portion of funds for each gallon of cooking oil or donation will be directed back to the D5FEE. The foundation will then provide money for educational grants and projects.

Lexington-Richland Five is the first district in the state to implement the Biodiesels 4 Schools initiative.

Categories: Lexington County

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