Students create renewable energy

January 14, 2011 3:30:07 PM PST
While many teenagers spend their afternoons playing video games or plugged into their iPods, one group gets a charge from recycling waste oil to make alternative fuel.

What started as a small project for a science fair is now a large scale museum exhibit. Some local students are showing how they "live green" with home-grown renewable energy.

"This is waste vegetable oil. We've collected it from a myriad of restaurants in this Tri-Taylor area," said Jacob Morley, senior, Whitney Young High School. "And this is what we use to make the biodiesel out of."

They say it's an easy process, but some might disagree.

"We put it in this cone drum and it'll gravity-feed into this filter. This filter has a sock filter in it and it's filled with an ion thermal resin called thermax. It pulls out all that extra glycerin that we don't want in the biodiesel," said Anna Hernandez, sophomore, Whitney Young High School.

The Whitney Young Magnet High School students are making bio-diesel, a fuel made from used cooking oil that can power any engine that normally runs on diesel. They say it can cut down on carbon emissions as much as 80-percent compared to regular diesel. And, it's cheap.

"We're producing for $1, $1.50 a gallon. For something like that it's just a clear choice," said Jacob Morley, senior, Whitney Young High School.

The project started when Hernandez approached her teacher with help for a science fair project.

"I thought I was going to be making it in little jars or pop bottles. He was like no, we can build a system. And I was like, OK," said Hernandez.

Her teacher, Brian Sievers, is now helping a group of students share their knowledge with the greater community.

"They told us we're the first high school ever to have this kind of setup at the Museum of Science and Industry," said Sievers. "The greatest thing about this project is we've got kids doing great things after school, showing kids in the CPS system can do great things. We just have to do more opportunities for them."

It's a prospect not lost on faculty at UIC. They are donating time and space in one of their engineering labs to help encourage the students' work.

"This is great, not just Whitney Young, but we welcome other students to come and do these kind of projects," said Professor Suresh Aggarwal, University of Illinois- Chicago.

Learn more about the project at A replica of their system is on display at the Museum of Science and Industry,, for the next two months.