Blythewood High School Making Biodiesel

Blythewood High School Making Biodiesel

Episode 4115
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With so much focus on the development of electric cars these days, it’s easy to overlook some of the tried and true clean fuels that are still making a positive impact on our environment; but, we recently visited a group of alt-fuel all-stars who are fueling their future with biodiesel!

Blythewood high school serves about 2000 students in rural Richland county, South Carolina. Typical of the area, it offers a few vocational classes in agriculture, construction and mechanics, but this chemistry course is anything but typical. These students are learning how to make biodiesel from donated used cooking oil. 

This unique curriculum is the brainchild of Will Epps, a science teacher here who identified a need in the local job market and sought a solution.

WILL EPPS: In the summers I work as a chemist at Westinghouse and what I noticed is that, in the lab space, there was a lot of turnover with technicians. And I was, you know, as a chemistry teacher, and kind of being one foot in both worlds, it kind of dawned on me and I was thinking well, why can’t we train high school kids to have this job? Noticing that what we’re doing in a chemistry class, they need a little bit extra to be successful in that environment.

JOHN DAVIS: Pairing that idea with some basic equipment found at the school, Will got the biodiesel program up and running a couple of years ago. 

It’s been expanding ever since and recently earned a grant from the South Carolina Energy Office through the US Department of Energy’s state energy program, with additional help from Palmetto Clean Fuels, South Carolina’s clean cities coalition; but it’s really Will’s infectious enthusiasm that draws students to the class.

AVA: I wanted to get involved in this program because I had, uh, Mr. Epps as a teacher before, and he was a really great teacher, and he convinced me that I was good at science and that I could continue being in science classes because I was previously a little insecure about my abilities with science.

CAMDEN: and also, I like doing the work. The work’s pretty-- it’s complex, but easy at the same time. It gets your brain, you know, pumping.

TESSA: And, it being more, like, out there and being more, like, project-based instead of just like papers and stuff, I’m like “that could be an interesting class to go into.”

JOHN DAVIS: In this lab, students not only learn the basics of chemical reactions, but also gain over 100 hours of laboratory experience; enough to help them qualify for chemical engineering and other lab internships at local companies.

WILL EPPS: It’s a great product. You know, it’s simple enough for students to understand; you know, we mix two things together and we get a product that separates out, and then we have a lot of analytical chemistry techniques that we need to proof that the fuel is good enough quality to go in an engine. So, it kind of fits both worlds, um, and it’s really nice to be able to take a waste product and change it into something that we can use again.

JOHN DAVIS: The student-made fuel is currently being tested in the school’s tractors and by diesel truck owners in the local community with great results, but the ultimate goal is to top off their own buses with a cleaner blend of B10 or B20 biodiesel made right at the school.

WILL EPPS: So the plan right now, and where we’re at, is that we can make 40 gallons of B100 in a week, and so the goal is to maybe double or triple that capacity over the next couple of years. And, you know, really our product is the biodiesel, but really the product is our students, and getting them into the workforce and being successful.

AYDEN: Well, now I’m really interested in chemistry.

KATRELL: I’m happy we can, you know-- we’re doing at least a little something to help.

TY: I know where we’re going right now is not the best, but if we can do any amount to help it, then that’s what I’m all for.

TYLER: It’s just a really cool thing to be a part of; saying “hey, you see that bus driving? I helped fuel that.”

JOHN DAVIS: Gaining a healthy respect for the environment, to go along with invaluable hands-on experience, these students are literally fueling a clean driving future for all of us!

EV Sales 4

EV Sales

Episode 4336
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The headlines are everywhere: electric vehicle sales are down! Dealers are swamped with unsold EVs! Car companies are doubling down on internal-combustion engines! The EV era is over before it began! And so on…

You know, there’s a lot of misinformation swirling around these days about the state of the current EV market. So, what are the facts and where might EVs go from here?

We’re in the midst of the most revolutionary shake up of the automotive market since the car replaced the horse as our preferred form of personal transportation back in the early 1900s. Then, as now, drivers faced the same decision of choosing petrol or electric power for their cars, and carmakers offered both options.

EV Sales 1

As it turned out, the rapid expansion of our interstate road system outpaced the electrification of rural America, paving the way for petroleum to take the lead in widespread availability, and to largely squeeze electrics out of the car market. Fast forward a hundred years: America is now wired from coast to coast, and advances in battery technology have made it possible for electric vehicles to perform competitively with gas and diesel models.

But more importantly, environmental concerns have become an important factor in determining our fuel of choice, fostering the second coming of the electric vehicle.

Now EV sales, including both plug-in hybrids and pure battery electrics, are surging beyond the early adopter and novelty stage, rising 46.5% in 2022 and 53.8% in 2023, achieving a record 9% of the total car market last year. After such rapid growth, some moderation was expected, but are EV sales really falling as headlines proclaim?

The short answer is no. While growth has slowed, plug-in vehicles still grew 17% in the first quarter of 2024, increasing their market share further as overall car sales rose only 5%.

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JOHN O’DONNELL: “There’s a lot of articles and media suggesting that we’ve already reached a plateau for EV sales, and that’s false, that’s incorrect. The rate of adoption is slowing, but it’s still increasing nationwide. State by state, it varies.The coasts, east and west coasts, have the higher penetration. The center of the country is adopting at a more slow rate, but make no mistake, this is not going away simply because somebody wrote an article.”

Another trend we’ve noticed is that consumers’ preferred type of EV is shifting. For all of 2023, about 80% of EVs sold were pure battery electric. But plug-in gasoline-electric hybrid sales are growing, and currently make up a quarter of total EV sales.

When faced with the EV market’s three-headed conundrum: limited number of affordable battery electric choices, fear of range anxiety, and a public charging infrastructure that’s still a work in progress, many buyers see plug in hybrids as a safe near-term bridge to eventually going all-electric. And that shift is now forecast to widen for the foreseeable future, as manufacturers release more new PHEVs into the market.

EV Sales

JOHN O’DONNELL: “Consumer affordability is always on our minds, representing the people who sell the cars, but it’s also on the mind of the state, local and federal governments. They know that they need to help us balance the amount of technology, which costs money through research and development, and what the average consumer can afford.”

The good news for consumers is that EV prices are already coming down, and, with dozens of new electric vehicles of all types expected to enter the market over the next 18 months, there is little doubt that such increased competition will cause EV prices to moderate even further. Thus, most market experts are still conservatively predicting EVs to pass the 12% market share point for all of 2024, and 15%, or over 2 million new EVs on the road, in 2025.

Add to that continuing improvements in driving range and charging infrastructure, and the future of EVs in America is still quite bright. American consumers are smart enough to question the naysayers. They know that the time is finally right for the electric automobile to come into its own. It’s not only the best thing for the environment, it just makes good driving sense.