Students are making progress with biodiesel

By Nick Frazee’s class
Friday Harbor High School

When we began the Friday Harbor High School biodiesel project three weeks ago, we had no idea all the little things it would entail.

We knew it was a big undertaking, but now we understand exactly what making our own biodiesel means. We began the project slowly, doing a lot of research about the supplies we would need and the most cost-effective ways to obtain those items. We studied the process that the waste oil would undergo to convert into biodiesel.

After we ordered all the supplies, along with some T-shirts for advertising, we began to construct the processing tank, with a converted water heater; and the wash tank, from an old 55-gallon plastic drum. Another drum was used for holding the filtered grease. We devised a few different systems for filtering grease, finally settling nets and a tea strainer. Once the grease was filtered, we began the process of our first batch.

We pumped the oil into the processing tank and heated it up to 130°F. We mixed together the methanol and NaOH, forming the dangerous methoxide. This may have been the step where we weren’t as successful with this batch. We added 80 percent of the methoxide and let it mix and settle overnight. The next step was to drain the settled glycerol off and mix in the other 20 percent. Once that settled, we drained off the rest of the glycerol and pumped the mixture into the wash tank.

The wash tank serves to mix the mixture more, with a little bit of water (think vegetable mister at the grocery store), which helps to separate out any lye and waste product that might be left. Once that is drained off, the next part was the final product, which could be drained out of the tank and be put directly in a car.

We only had time this year for one batch, by the time we got all of our supplies together, and unfortunately it was not too successful. Something went wrong and our outcome was not ideal biodiesel, but we’re looking at all the ways we can fix our problems and make everything work as we continue this project next year. We have the drive and the supplies, and we’ll make this project happen.

We’d like to say “thank you” to everyone that helped us along the way with this project. Thank you to Heritage High School and Jim Neiman for allowing us to visit and learn from them. Thanks to Andrew Bower, Jack Bell and Charlie Meyer for their guidance and expertise, and Andrew for some supplies. Thanks to Kevin Kuper for volunteering to test one of our batches. Also, thanks to the San Juan Public Schools Foundation.

Thanks to Mr. Soltman and Mr. Woods for supporting us and our ASB for purchasing the T-shirts. Lastly, we’d like to say “thank you” for all the local businesses that provided their waste oil.

We will be putting it to good use. This project would not have been possible without all of these big supporters and we appreciate all the help we have been given.

Thank you.