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Shepard H.S. project to help Crestwood cut diesel bills

Shepard High School physics teacher Brian Sievers inspects batch biodiesel fuel produced from used cooking oil.  |  Mike

Shepard High School physics teacher Brian Sievers inspects a batch of biodiesel fuel produced from used cooking oil. | Mike Nolan~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 30, 2014 6:47AM



Brian Sievers dips a glass beaker into a barrel of liquid containing what looks like maple syrup, and, holding it up and giving it a look, declares the batch “primo.”

At some point it will help fuel village-owned vehicles in Crestwood, giving them better gas mileage and ultimately saving the village thousands of dollars annually.

Sievers, a physics teacher at Shepard High School in Palos Heights, and students from the school built a refinery in Crestwood’s public works garage, where they’re turning discarded cooking oil into fuel. They’ve cooked up about 70 gallons so far, and the biodiesel will be a substitute for regular diesel fuel in village vehicles.

Sievers’ students on Friday demonstrated the refining process to family members.

“Who’d have thought to use cooking oil to turn it into something so cool?” Madeline Kachold, a Shepard senior from Worth, said.

Beggars Pizza is providing “all the oil we can use,” and donations of materials and cash have come from other sources, Sievers said.

“Things are working good,” he said.

There is little that goes to waste, with 70 percent of the used oil being turned into biodiesel, Sievers, a Crestwood resident and former mechanical engineer, said. A byproduct of the refining process is glycerine, a key ingredient in soap, and chemistry students at Shepard will use that in the classroom, he said.

Sievers said the biodiesel project takes students beyond just reading a textbook and doing experiments.

“It’s a big thing in science (education) to have kids do something real,” he said.

The teacher also noted that students were taking time off from their Christmas break to continue to work on the project, which was started at the beginning of the current school year.

Sievers praised “high school kids on their free time doing something for a town.”

Kachold said she and other students have been enthusiastic about the project.

“Our excitement bounces off each other,” she said.

The teacher contacted Crestwood officials about building the refinery because space was limited at Shepard, although there are plans to construct a similar cooking oil conversion system in a new science wing at the school.

Sievers said the biodiesel burns more cleanly and doesn’t emit the pollutants associated with diesel fuel, and also produces more miles to the gallon. Crestwood Mayor Lou Presta said the village plans to start using the alternative fuel soon, and expects to save about $5,000 annually in diesel costs. Sievers also is talking with the Cook County Forest Preserve District about using the biodiesel in its vehicles.

Vehicles that use diesel fuel don’t have to be modified in any way to use biodiesel, although colder temperatures — because of the fuel’s viscosity — restrict how much can be used, Sievers said.

“There’s no conversion,” he said. “Just open the gas cap and pour it in there.”



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