Biofuel Production in Saginaw County, MI
Community issue: At
Birch Run High School in Saginaw County, Mich., students, teachers and staff
weren’t recycling or using any “green” energy practices. The school was even paying
to have their used cooking oil from the cafeteria hauled away. Local
restaurants were also disposing of their used cooking oil
in ways that weren’t always consistent with good environmental practices. They
knew this was negatively impacting the environment.
How it was addressed:
Five teens in the Birch Run High School 4-H club, along with project
spokesperson, Josh, wanted to help their school adopt more
environmentally friendly practices. Working with their leader, Jan Pollard—who
was also their science teacher—they began several projects including one to
capture the fact that used cooking oil from the school cafeteria could be
turned into bio-diesel fuel. They were
able to produce bio-diesel fuel at a quantity and quality that allowed the
school to use it to run some of their school buses.
Word about the program spread, and area farmers began asking
the club for help making their own bio-diesel fuel to run their tractors and
other farm equipment. When the school decided to contract out their busing
operation and no longer needed the fuel, the fuel the club was making began
going to these farmers, instead.
Today, community residents also get into the act by driving
around to the back of the school to dump their used cooking oil at the “drive
through” station the club created. As of early 2012, the program had 2,500 gallons
of used vegetable oil ready to be turned into bio-diesel fuel, which will add
considerably to the 1,400 gallons of fuel they’ve already made.
The results: The
program saved the school money by having buses run off the bio-diesel fuel and also
by not having to pay an outside company to have the used cooking oil removed. The program also helped local farmers save
money on their fuel costs, and whether the fuel is used to run school buses or
tractors, it causes less pollution than regular diesel fuel does when it burns.
Ultimately, this project has helped create less of a negative environmental
The program has created a byproduct, too—education.
Impressed with what they were hearing about the program, other schools began
calling, eager to learn how they could start their own biodiesel programs. The club
has began taking its show on the road by showing other schools how to get on
the bio-diesel bandwagon.
“It puts us in a place where Birch Run is not just farm
country, it’s also a place where there is major growth in the area of
alternative education for our students in alternative energy,” says Birch Run
High School principal, Mike Baszler.
What does Josh have
to say? “Our country has a need for alternative energy sources. To be able
to participate in alternative energy programs and recycling programs is
definitely going to be something that is part of our daily lives in the future.
It’s important for the future health of our country.” - Josh, 4-H youth involved
with this program.