Bio-diesel science project fueled by Shepard High students

This winter, some residents might get a whiff of pizza when the snow plows go by, because those trucks will be running on fuel made from used cooking oil from a local restaurant.
October 26, 2013 9:43:23 PM PDT
This winter, some residents might get a whiff of pizza when the snow plows go by, because those trucks will be running on fuel made from used cooking oil from a local restaurant.

Students from Alan B. Shepard High School in Palos Heights had a big idea for a science project. But they didn't have space in their school to contain it.

"We wanted to see what it was like to build bio-diesel," said senior Madeline Kachold. "We wanted to get our hands dirty."

So with the help of their physics teacher, the students cut a deal with the village of Crestwood. City leaders allow them to set up shop in their public works building. In return, the students supply them with free fuel. The students will even mount solar panels on the roof to make their own electricity for the system.

"There's going to be a lot of chemistry in this. There's a lot of physics involved. Then piping and fluid mechanics going on, electricity. We're wiring things up," said physics teacher Brian Sievers. "They're allowed to actually use knowledge that they've gained in a practical use to help somebody. What greater thing can we instill in kids?"

All of these trucks that run on diesel will burn cleaner and cheaper using the eco-friendly fuel converted from used cooking oil.

"We first dissected a hot water heater and took out most of the hot water heater components and are now using it as a bio-diesel refinery of sorts," said senior Mike Peretz. "So we're going to combine the used cooking oil from Beggar's along with methanol and potassium hydroxide and that will eventually drain into the dirty bio-diesel."

The mayor predicts it will save taxpayers roughly $50,000 a year.

"It will help our budget," said Mayor Lou Presta. "We can spend the money other places."

The bio-diesel system will remain in the village and students will maintain it on an on-going basis.