Sparta, NJ High School Club Explores Uses for Biodiesel

Written on: August 16, 2016 by ICM

By Jennifer Dericks,
SPARTA, NJ – The students at Sparta High School continue to have unique educational opportunities because of the support of the Sparta Education Foundation.  The school’s Ecology club created an off-shoot Biodiesel club with the help of a grant from the education foundation in 2012
The club’s advisor is chemistry teacher Andrew Bickerton.  With his background as a research chemist and engineer he was able to “guide the club’s environmental, chemistry, biology and engineering students,” Bickerton explained.
The students and Bickerton designed and created the equipment to produce the biodiesel using the frying oil donated by the Sparta Lanes bowling alley.  Students in the club had to analyze the qualities of the oil at the beginning of the process as well as the end result biodiesel fuel according to Bickerton.
According to the education foundation four students who are the driving force of the club are Quinn Van Es, Terry Rippon, Soumya Duggirala and Alex Poret.
Bickerton points to Sparta High School’s alumnus Matt Saba as an example of the opportunities the club provides for students.  Not only do they get to apply their science lessons to a real-world situation, Saba was able to get an internship based on his participation in the club.
This year, as in the past, the biodiesel fuel produced by the club has been used to run “contractor torpedo heaters, a diesel generator and even a school bus and school district lawn equipment,” Bickerton said.  He has even used it as a home heating oil.
An interesting byproduct of the process is a soap.  It has been found to be “a decent oil and grease cutting soap” as well as working as an automatic dishwasher detergent.
“I recently used the soap to clean most of a transmission fluid stain off the driveway,” said Bickerton.  “It will need a second wash but the soap is environmentally friendly and biodegradable.”
Other club highlights from the 2015-2016 school year include a new agitator drive system that was designed and tested by the students.  This particular project was a good learning experience because they found it did not work as well as hoped so they returned to using the previous drive system.
In an effort to track long term results, Bickerton said he bought a used Sparta blue diesel truck, outfitted with magnetic signs that announce the truck is powered by Sparta High School biodiesel.  It ran on a roughly 20 percent blend of biodiesel: regular diesel for at least two weeks without issue.  “The truck actually runs better on the blend,” said BIckerton.
The club is looking expanding their reach.  Bickerton said they plan on working with Bruce Coston, of BG Coston and Son, an excavating company in Andover to use the club’s biodiesel in his equipment.  Coston also helped the club to evaluate the soap by using it in their shop as a hand cleaner.
Additionally, BIckerton has been working with Melanie Boyer of the New York Susquehanna and Western Railroad “on possibly stopping a locomotive as it passes through town and trying some biodiesel.”
“We are thrilled to hear about the many creative outcomes resulting from the ongoing biodiesel program,” said Danielle Dykstra, President of the Sparta Education Foundation.  “It’s gratifying to know that the SEF grant to fund the high school’s biodiesel program continues to be an unqualified success on every level.”
“The kids were really dedicated to the club [last] year,” said Bickerton.  “The experience was great for real world exposure to designing and building the reactor, analyzing reagents and final product using chemistry, the whole concept of renewable energy from a waste frying oil.”
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