COALMONT, Tenn. — A biodiesel program started at Grundy County High School a year ago as a way to spark student interest in alternative fuels may soon help the district curb the cost of running buses.
To make vegetable oil donations to Grundy County High School, contact Donivan Stockwell at (931) 692-5404 or dstockwell@K12TN.net
By the end of this school year, students could be riding a bus running exclusively on biodiesel produced in the high school’s vocational office, Transportation Director Trey Foster said.
Diesel for buses costs the district about $1 more per gallon than when the school year began in August to about $3.51. A gallon of biodiesel costs about $1 to make.
The first bus probably will be a substitute bus and act as a promotion for the program because even as students double their biodiesel production to 80 gallons a week, it won’t be enough to run a full-time bus with a 50- to 100-gallon tank, he said.
“We at least want to be progressive and try to start doing it as a possibility,” he said.
But for senior Justin Hanner, biodiesel production has really hit home since he began the class a year ago. The Future Farmers of America president said he’s beginning to construct a system at home to make the vegetable oil-based fuel with his father, an independent trucker, to use to power his tractor trailer.
“My dad drove a truck 20-plus years. I kept telling him what we were doing out here,” he said. “It will cut down a lot on fuel prices. (The prices) taking a pretty good toll.
Justin said he also wants to buy a diesel pickup so he can use the fuel.
Staff Photo by Lori Yount -- Grundy County High School senior Justin Hanner, left, and agriculture teacher Donivan Stockwell explain how the students' biodiesel is stored in barrels and pumped into tractors used to maintain school grounds.
Not that he won’t try alternative fuel methods on his pickup with a regular engine. Justin won the state FFA Agriscience Fair this year with a hydro assist fuel cell that draws out hydrogen from distilled water and mixes the hydrogen into regular fuel to increase fuel efficiency by more than 50 percent. He’s sprucing the model up for nationals this fall.
The high school’s biodiesel production isn’t without its challenges, sponsor and agriculture teacher Donivan Stockwell pointed out. The biggest problem: oil sources. Much of it is used vegetable oil from restaurants.
“We offer free oil pick up!” Mr. Stockwell said.
Mr. Stockwell said he started using a small amount of biodiesel in his vehicle and notices he gets better gas mileage.
So far, about 600 gallons produced by students has been used to fuel tractors and rider lawn mowers to maintain campus grounds. The only vehicle maintenance issue in switching over to full biodiesel is oil filters get clogged easily at first as the cleaner oil cleanses the systems of the former carbon-based fuel, Mr. Stockwell said.
As gas prices reach record highs this year, he said interest has risen in the program in the past few months.
“We’re getting a lot of inquiries from people in the community,” Mr. Stockwell said. “We’ve talked about starting a wind power program. And checked into ethanol to use instead of methanol.”
The price of producing a gallon of biodiesel has gone up from about 70 cents a year ago to about $1 now because of the rising price of methanol used in the process making the fuel, he said. That’s why he’s considering taking up ethanol production with his classes too.
But Justin, who has been recruited by college automobile and fuel programs because of his work, said he doesn’t think it should be used as a replacement for gasoline because it isn’t as efficient.
“It takes more fuel to run a car,” he said.