When Bob Pollard pulls up to the back door of Jim ’N Nick’s Bar-B-Q in Birmingham, Alabama, it’s not to load up on spare ribs or pulled pork. Instead, the environmental science and biology teacher is there to fill 55-gallon plastic drums with leftover vegetable oil from the restaurant’s fryers.
This is the first step in what has become Pollard’s personal mission: to brew enough biodiesel to power the vehicles at Indian Springs School, where he teaches.
Pollard has lectured for years on alternative energy. But it wasn’t until September 2005—when one of his students suggested buying a biodiesel kit he saw on the Internet—that he decided to start producing the renewable fuel.
Parent and alumni donations of $3,500 helped pay for an Appleseed Biodiesel Processor Kit (“the homebrew kit of choice,” according to Pollard) and a 10-by-12-foot insulated shed that serves as a processing center.
Biodiesel is made from just three ingredients: sodium hydroxide, methanol, and the vegetable oil Pollard collects from the school’s dining hall and local restaurants. “For my 8th grade environmental science class,” Pollard says, “we’ll make small batches of biodiesel in class using a two-liter Coke bottle, just to show them how simple it is.”
The private school’s two buses, two tractors, and one backhoe are now running on a mixture of biodiesel and petroleum diesel, “to break them in,” Pollard says. His plan is to rely exclusively on the clean fuel during warm weather.
“I hope to make about 500 gallons this summer so that we don’t have to work around the clock during the school year,” Pollard says. Since it only costs about 60 cents a gallon to produce biodiesel, the school’s fuel savings are expected to total around $8,000 per year.
“[The students are] pretty excited about the idea of riding around in probably the cleanest bus in Birmingham,” says Pollard, who started running his own 1987 Mercedes-Benz on biodiesel last year.
“Our school’s motto is ‘learning through living,’” he says. “I try to adhere to that.”
A version of this article appeared in the May 01, 2007 edition of Teacher as Fueling Change