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!

H2 the Rescue 3

H2 the Rescue

How Hydrogen Can Help First Responders

Episode 4241
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H2 the Rescue

Mounting an effective response to natural disasters or emergency situations often comes down to having the right vehicles and equipment on standby. This week we look at a prototype rescue truck that relies on clean power technology to let first responders hit the ground running.

Efficient use of time and resources in the first hours after a hurricane, flood, fire, or winter storm, especially in remote areas, is critical for setting up a successful recovery operation.

H2@Rescue is a hydrogen fuel cell/battery hybrid truck that can mobilize to disaster sites within a 180-mile range, and then provide power, heating and cooling, and even create water on-site for up to 72 hours before refueling.

The project is a collaboration between several federal agencies, including the Departments of Energy and Homeland Security, the Army Corps of Engineers and private sector partners. We caught up with the team at Colorado’s National Renewable Energy Lab, where functionality testing was underway.

H2 the Rescue 2

NICHOLAS JOSEFIK: “The H2@Rescue gives us an opportunity to bring an emergency vehicle into a situation where there is no power or water, and get some eyes on the situation. We can immediately have a command center, we can immediately be producing power– 25 kilowatts worth of power– and we can be generating water on site that could be used.”

H2@Rescue is a Class 7 heavy duty truck weighing approximately 33,000 pounds.The box body is climate controlled and can act as a mobile command center or warming/cooling shelter during an emergency. The truck carries 176 kilograms of hydrogen onboard, in high-pressure tanks. Hydrogen fuel has an energy density about three times that of gas or diesel, and the electric drivetrain used in this truck is more efficient than a similar internal combustion engine.

Conversion of the Kenworth chassis from diesel to hydrogen power was spearheaded by Accelera by Cummins, a new subsidiary of the traditionally diesel-driven engine maker, that will focus on zero-emissions power solutions for the future.

PRATEEK VAISH: “It has a fuel cell, which produces 90 kilowatts at max. There’s a high-voltage battery, which is 155 kilowatt-hours, and there is a traction motor, which is 250. So, in a nutshell, how this vehicle operates is: The fuel cell charges the battery, and the battery provides power to the traction– traction motor. But if the battery is low on charge, the fuel cell can also provide power to the traction motor.”

H2 the Rescue 1

The transport and fueling infrastructure for hydrogen still lags behind conventional fuels in terms of cost and number of locations due to the need for pressurized tanks and other factors, but that gap could be closed in the future, since hydrogen can be produced and stored locally, potentially right at a fueling site.

Accelera is already a global leader in fuel cell applications with more than 2,000 fuel cells and 600 electrolyzers – the machines that separate hydrogen from water — already in use.

Lessons learned here will help them develop zero-emission power solutions for other vocational vehicles, like electric utility trucks, transit buses, delivery vehicles and long-haul trucks.

PRATEEK VAISH: “And we’re doing a lot of work towards destination zero, which is we’re trying to decarbonize the whole Cummins portfolio by 2050, so this is a great step in that direction.”

H2@Rescue passed the NREL testing with flying colors, proving that hydrogen power can fulfill the critical needs of first responders in these extraordinary situations, and showing one pathway to a zero-emission future for vehicles of all sizes.