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Demonstration fuels Brenham ISD students’ scientific curiosity

Blinn College teaches middle school students to create biodiesel with used cooking oil

December 5, 2013

More than 30 Brenham Middle School students saw how basic chemistry impacts their daily life Monday when Blinn College Natural Science Professor Dr. Greg Phillips demonstrated how they could turn used cooking oil into fuel.

BMS student Carson Melead could hardly believe his eyes. Classmate Colton Jaster shared his enthusiasm as he watched the chemical process taking place.

“This is incredible,” Jaster said.

Carson Melead More incredible is the partnership between Blinn College and Brenham Independent School District (BISD), which allows students to witness just one of the ways in which science impacts their daily lives. In September, Blinn donated 110 gallons to Durham School Services, which operates BISD’s fleet of buses. In 2012, Phillips and his team donated 100 gallons to BISD.

“The diesel we’re getting is as good as you can buy,” BISD Director of Student Services Jon Forsythe said in September.

Students watched as Phillips added methanol and potassium hydroxide to used cooking oil. When mixed, the chemicals snap off the glycerin particle of the fat, which leaves a byproduct of biodiesel. Once the glycerin has been removed, water is added to remove any impurities so the biodiesel can be safely used in vehicles.

“This is a great experience that the kids get to be a part of that we don’t get to do in our labs,” said Sarah Cook, a teacher for BISD’s Challenging Scientific Investigation (CSI), a program for  BISD students in grades 3-6 who excel in science.

“It’s great for them to get a look at college at a young age, and we’re so appreciative of Blinn,” Cook said. “Dr. Phillips does a great job connecting with our kids.”

The biodiesel project is part of Blinn's Service Learning program, which combines community service with classroom instruction or student club activities, focusing on critical, reflective thinking and civic responsibility to engage students. Service Learning involves students in activities that address local needs while developing their academic or professional skills and commitment to their community.

Registration for Blinn’s upcoming Winter minimester is available through Dec. 13, and students can register for the Spring semester through Jan. 12. For more information, visit: www.blinn.edu.

Photo: Carson Melead: Brenham Middle School student Carson Melead pours a mixture of potassium hydroxide and methanol to used cooking oil. The process, once complete, creates biodiesel that can be used to run diesel engines.