‘Biodiesel High’ seeks expansion

By Ron Kotrba | November 02, 2012

In Fenton, Mo., Rockwood Summit High School students and chemistry teacher Darrin Peters have taken hands-on learning to a new level with biodiesel production. The journey began five years ago when a student learned from Peters that fuel could be produced from waste grease. Since then, select Rockwood Summit High School advanced classes have expanded laboratory work to regularly produce biodiesel fuel from waste oil collected from the cafeteria. After using a small, dedicated space in a school storage shed to produce biodiesel, they’re ready to expand. Peters is heading up financing for the new Falcon Renewable Fuel Educational Center. The proposed center would be 20 feet by 25 feet and would cost $100,000.

The school’s initial equipment was crude but the new processor and design is markedly more sophisticated. It recently won a grant to help pay for solenoid valves to facilitate automation. “We are two months away from having a biodiesel processor that can be operated and monitored from my classroom computer,” Peters says. “These kids are phenomenal. We want room to say, ‘Yes, we can try that,’ when a student says, ‘What if we tried this?’”

“I’ve learned that perseverance in biodiesel can go a long way—and having passion also,” says Rockwood Summit senior A.J. Park. “It helps you learn so much more than if you gave up on the first try.” Senior Austin Martin is helping set up automation programming. When Park tells people what kind of work she is doing, they’re shocked. “I think the main reaction we get is, ‘Are you high school students?’” she says. “They’re just surprised high school students would be doing this—it’s not like it’s complicated, but it’s not like high school work.”

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