What started as a science fair project for student Ana Hernandez has grown into a biodiesel club as well as a collaborative effort with the UIC Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering.

Ana and classmates Sabrina Kwan, Jacob Morley, Melissa Lin, and Jean Dubose have completed construction of a biodiesel processor that is now producing biodiesel fuel from donated used and new cooking oil.

The department has provided a lab and start-up funds for the student project. Says Sievers (1991 BS, UIUC and 1998 MS, UIC), “The UIC faculty and graduate students are eager to help us as they plan to investigate the research possibilities of biodiesel. Whitney Young students and the UIC graduate students will perform tests of our biodiesel to evaluate its specifications and performance.”

Since Sievers holds a mechanical engineering degree from both UIC and UIUC, he is glad to involve college students from each campus in the effort. “We borrowed a biodiesel go-kart from the UIUC biodiesel initiative and will use it to test the emissions of biodiesel,” he reported in early November.

They tested the emissions of biodiesel fuel at a Chicago IDOT facility twice in November 2010 so they could compare it to the emissions for standard diesel fuel.

The results? Sievers says of the go-kart, “We found that the go-kart engine was simple, not tuned. As a result an average opacity value of 74% was measured.”

They needed a road-worthy vehicle for a real-life test.

Whitney1So on November 27, the students returned to IDOT with a diesel Volkswagen Jetta borrowed from a teacher at Whitney Young. This time they performed tests running on both diesel fuel and biodiesel that they made from used and new (unused) cooking oil.

The results were overwhelmingly in favor of the biofuel. The Jetta recorded an opacity value of about 22% in two separate tests running on diesel; whereas, they obtained average values of about 4% in four separate tests running on biodiesel they made from new and used cooking oil. That was about an 80% reduction in emissions.

The students also plan to conduct an analysis of the composition, specifications and performance of their biodiesel at Argonne National Laboratory.

The Whitney Young students hope to donate vast quantities of their fuel to a farm coop. Says Sievers, “We also would like to build a second system and donate it to a 4-H or FFA club. We want to get the word about our project to rural Illinois because we want to show that biodiesel has an incredible impact on the environment as it significantly lowers green house gases and it is a renewable fuel.”

Students working with Sievers have a record of success with biodiesel fuel. While Sievers was a physics teacher at Thornridge High School in Dalton, his biodiesel club supplied the facilities maintenance staff with sufficient bio-fuel to run lawn mowers as well as a car. In 2009, they won the national Lexus Biodiesel Challenge. The school and the students shared the prize of $50,000.

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Raymond Matthes

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