Students recognized as the future of biodiesel

By Staff Report | June 15, 2010
Students from three schools around the country who participated in projects involving biodiesel, Bioheat and potential biodiesel feedstocks were presented the President's Environmental Youth Award at a recent ceremony in Washington.

Seven Westerly Middle School students in Westerly, R.I., were recognized for their "TGIF" project: "Turn Grease into Fuel." Cassandra Lin, John Perino, Marissa Chiaradio, Taylor Fiore-Chettiar, Vanessa Bertsch, Miles Temel and Alaxander Lin are members of the Westerly Innovations Network at Westerly Middle School. Together, they decided to do their part in tackling global warming by creating a sustainable project that collected waste cooking oil, refining it into biodiesel and distributing it.

The students presented the project to the local town council and convinced them to place a grease receptacle at the town's transfer station to collect the waste cooking oil from residents. The youths also convinced 64 local restaurants to donate their waste cooking oil left over from fried food. To collect the waste oil from the restaurants and the transfer station, the students collaborated with a company to collect it and bring it to a waste cooking oil/biodiesel refiner. The proceeds from the refiner were used to purchase Bioheat from a local distributor to give to local charities.

In Gainesville, Fla., the Oak Hall School Biodiesel Project began as a science fair project to collect and process waste cooking oil into biodiesel fuel for the school's diesel-powered lawn equipment and, eventually, school buses. With the dedication of several high school students, the project evolved into a plan to build a student-operated biodiesel facility on the school campus as an effort to pursue alternative energy sources and to encourage school-wide environmental stewardship.

Members of the Oak Hall School Biodiesel Project team obtained all necessary local and state regulatory approvals for biodiesel production; raised funds for the reactor, a facility to house the reactor and supplies to manufacture biodiesel; collected more than 250 gallons of waste cooking oil; and produced more than 25 gallons of biodiesel. The students also wrote an instruction manual to encourage other schools to replicate the biodiesel project.

Jeffrey Morris, an Oak Hall student, blogged about his experience in Washington. He wrote, "Move aside baby boomers and step out of the way Generation X-today's youth is who's going to change the world! I've witnessed it first hand on this second day in D.C., and due to my fellow PEYA recipients and their impressive projects, my belief that my generation will change America's old ways and even the entire globe's practices has truly been fortified."

While identifying and satisfying governmental regulations regarding biodiesel manufacture, one of the team members discovered Florida Statute 206. This statute imposes a burdensome reporting requirement and tax that may inhibit other school administrators from launching school-based biodiesel activities. The students also learned that a school may petition to have this tax refunded based on its tax exempt status. The Oak Hall School Biodiesel Project team has sought legislative relief from Statute 206. The team has obtained commitments from a Florida State senator and several members of the Florida House of Representatives to sponsor an amendment to reduce this reporting and tax hurdle. The project team is preparing a presentation for the Florida House and Senate Committees in the 2010 legislative session in support of this initiative.

From Pleasant Hill and Martinez, Calif., the Project Jatropha Team-Adarsha Shivakumar, Apoorva Rangan and Callie Roberts-promoted cultivation of jatropha as an ecologically friendly, economically sustainable source of alternative fuel production. To date, the work of Project Jatropha has supported the planting of 13,000 seedlings by more than 50 farm families in Southern India.

Shivakumar and Rangan got the idea for this project while visiting their grandfather's farm in Karnataka's Hunsur County, India, where they became aware that poor farmers need an alternative to cultivating tobacco for income since tobacco production in rural India requires ongoing wood fires to cure the leaves, which contributes to greenhouse gases and deforestation. To address the problem, they conducted research and learned that biodiesel produced from the jatropha seeds provides an alternative source of energy to power diesel engines, vehicles and equipment like irrigation pumps, and produces cleaner exhaust emissions than traditional fuels.

In 2008, the three youths founded Project Jatropha to supply jatropha seedlings to farmers in India. They manage the project by visiting India during summer and winter breaks from school and by telephone from the U.S. during the year. Participants in the project are provided training in agronomics for the new crop and financial relief while the plants mature. Upon harvest, the project purchases the seeds back from farmers at market price.

With the aid of a nongovernmental organization and a plant biotechnology company in India, the team conducted outreach activities for individual farmers and women's self-help groups in Hunsur County. Local residents were educated about Project Jatropha through town-hall meetings, a presentation at Rotary International, and a press conference in the City of Mysore. In the U.S., team members collaborated with high school and middle school student leaders, teachers, environmentalists, nonprofit organizations and city council members. Project Jatropha also established a partnership in the U.S. with Sirona Cares Foundation, a sustainable fuel and living project.

The project was implemented successfully because the three members of Project Jatropha believed one simple thing: "Have an idea? Just go do it," Shivakumar said.
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