Fueling Education Loud and Clear

AIDB’s biodiesel program provides unparalleled work experience for its students
By Bryan Sims | February 28, 2012

Alabama native Helen Keller once said, “No one has the right to consume happiness without producing it.” The same could be said of biodiesel at the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind in Talladega, Ala. Thanks to extensive local, state and federal collaboration and funding when the idea was conceived in 2008, AIDB is now the first educational entity in the state of Alabama to implement a biodiesel public education, student training and production program.

Since Project Green launched in October 2010 with the help of a $300,000 U.S. DOE congressional award driven by state representative Mike Rogers, R-Ala., the program has been a student-led public education vehicle that provides a valuable hands-on approach for its students—students who happen to have visual, hearing and multiple disabilities—to be the teachers. The program's long-term goal is systemic change in attitude and knowledge about alternative fuel sources like biodiesel, essentially bridging the gap between alternative fuels research and market acceptance, says AIDB President Terry Graham.

“We certainly thought this would be a great way for our students to learn more about the environment and to learn a lot about the academic kinds of things that can be associated with being in a biodiesel program, and also to give us an opportunity to educate others within the state,” Graham tells Biodiesel Magazine.

Housed in AIDB’s E.H. Gentry Facility, Project Green has the capacity to produce 55 gallons of biodiesel per day out of a biodiesel processor supplied by California-based Springboard Biodiesel LLC to fuel a small number of AIDB school buses, maintenance trucks, lawn equipment and other state vehicles, according to Jessica Edmiston, AIDB’s public relations coordinator and assistant director for development.

“AIDB students are involved in every facet of the biodiesel production process,” she says. “From the waste vegetable oil pick-up and the actual conversion to bio-diesel to the public relations activities such as hosting tours.”

Although an evaluative safety component wasn’t mandated within the DOE proposal, AIDB sought Frazier Barnes & Associates to provide technical assistance at no charge to AIDB to ensure that all safety and security measures were implemented, according to Ashley Player, chemical engineer at FBA. Notable proposed safety measures that were implemented by FBA include: clarification of operating procedures, implementation of caution and safety signage, and implementation of fire alarms systems for both deaf and blind, among others. “We wanted to make sure the students were safe,” Player emphasizes.

While Project Green provides an educational environment to learn about every aspect of biodiesel production, Graham says the program ultimately creates an unmatched employment-based training mechanism for AIDB’s students eager to continue their skills and abilities outside the institution. “The most important thing for us, especially in this tough economy, is really about the jobs,” Graham says. “In the final analysis, our primary goal is to make certain that the people we serve end up being competitively employed. We’re really creating work experience opportunities, which are a major benefit of Project Green.”

—Bryan Sims

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