Our school bus runs on chip fat

30th March 2007 at 01:00
Pupils convert canteen leftovers into cheap, sustainable fuel for teachers'


NOT OFTEN is the arrival of the school bus signalled by the aroma of cooking chips, but pupils at Ullswater community college in Cumbria are getting used to it.

It has been a few months since their head of information technology installed a biodiesel reactor in the school barn. At 70p a litre, it is cheaper than the petrol across the road. It is also kinder to the environment and, since it comes from used cooking fat, is sustainable.

"The dinner ladies are glad to get rid of the stuff," said Peter Lee, the brains behind the scheme. He collects the barrels of creamy old cooking fat the kitchens used to pay 20p a litre to get rid of and takes them into the barn to begin a two-day process of pumping and draining. After 48 hours, the resultant honey-coloured liquid can power any diesel tank. It fuels the school bus, the site manager's van and an array of cars and camper vans brought to him by bargain-hungry staff.

Mr Lee said:"It's great for cleaning out the pipes. One teacher even says it has improved his miles-to-the-gallon ratio. But there are downsides. You cannot use it neat in winter as it doesn't include antifreeze, and it can clog the system as it cleans it out."

Biofuel - fuel made from plant and animal matter - was first used in 1893, when the German inventor Rudolf Diesel unveiled the first oil-powered engine, fuelled by peanut oil. Most European countries now operate biodiesel plants and it is touted as a sustainable alternative to petrol.

But Ullswater is almost certainly the first school to install its own facility.

What started as a bright idea for a Young Enterprise project is now the focal point of ICT, as pupils prepare websites and brochures for parents'

evening celebrating their unique asset.

For pound;650, Mr Lee considers the reactor cost a snip. However, there is a drawback. "They don't cook so many chips nowadays and so getting the oil is a problem," he said. "Jamie Oliver has done me in."

Biodiesel: the deal

Modern biodiesel was invented in 1977 by the Brazilian scientist Expedito Parente.

It is produced from vegetable oil by a process known as transesterification.

It produces less carbon dioxide and other polluting gases than petrochemical diesel. It is also biodegradable.

Biodiesel reactors can be bought for a few hundred pounds.

For more information read From the Fryer to the Fuel Tank by Josh Tickell

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