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Pa. students make biodiesel fuel

January 04, 2008|By JENNIFER FITCH

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Students and staff at the Franklin County Career and Technology Center made biodiesel fuel that successfully powered a tractor-trailer engine Thursday.

"First, we had to get used cooking oil, and then we had to mix lye and ethanol," said Robert Sellers, a senior from Chambersburg who is enrolled in the diesel mechanics program.

The endeavor is a two-day process because some of the steps require hours of mixing, instructor Kevin Grove said.

"We've been really interested in alternative energy here," said Jim Duffey, administrative director at the center.

Grove used a Pennsylvania Department of Education grant toward the purchase of a $3,500 processor from Colorado.

"After a lot of tries and a lot of hits and misses, they finally made diesel today," Duffey said Thursday afternoon.

Grove, who attended a seminar on alternative fuels two years ago, said the government has been touting the benefits of biodiesel fuel and ethanol.

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One of the earliest steps in the career center's successful recipe involved mixing the ethanol and lye.

"It creates a chemical reaction, and you introduce it with the warm cooking oil," Grove said. The cooking oil was collected from area restaurants, he said.

The career center's biodiesel fuel could be made for about $1 per gallon, Grove said.

"This fuel will work in any diesel vehicle without any modifications," Grove said. "I know fellas who are running 100 percent biodiesel fuel" in their engines.

"It's safe for the environment, and it costs a lot less than buying diesel fuel," Sellers said.

The only concern would be that it could become a gel on especially cold days, Grove said.

Grove said the project proved to be "a good chemistry lesson for the kids" because of the beakers and scales that needed to be used. They also needed to consider how pure the cooking oil was.

Students compared the engine using their biodiesel fuel to one using diesel fuel.

"The results were that it was neck and neck up to about 1,800 rpm," Grove said.

Grove said that he has heard engines lose between 5 percent and 10 percent horsepower when running on biodiesel fuel.

Further experiments with biodiesel fuel will involve the career center's other engines and perhaps a truck, Grove said.

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