Most bus garage employees, with 35+ years with their county, would probably spend quite a bit of time thinking about their impending retirement... fishing, gardening, rocking on the porch or maybe even doing as little as possible. Grady Truett has other ideas. Lately, he spends much of his time thinking about making BIO-DIESEL.
The Gaston County Schools’ Transportation Department is the first LEA in the state to produce its own bio-diesel fuel using recycled vegetable oil from locally obtained waste cooking oil.
Members of the department make the fuel by mixing used vegetable oil with alcohol and sodium hydroxide to create a chemical reaction that yields bio-diesel fuel. “It is a rather simple process,” said assistant transportation director Grady Truett, who is coordinating the innovative effort.
Using the clean-burning, alternative fuel reduces air pollution and decreases the school system's dependency on petroleum-based fuels. Truett says, “It is a much cleaner transportation fuel made from recycled and renewable resources.”
Bio-diesel also offers economic benefits to the school system. It can be produced cheaper than purchasing traditional diesel fuel and the process recycles the cooking oil used by the school nutrition department, which pays a company to dispose of the oil.
Timing is everything
At the time Gaston was considering producing its own bio-diesel, fuel prices were reaching historic levels. Before the price hikes, producing bio-diesel was not considered feasible due to some of the costs involved. When diesel fuel hit $2.50 + a gallon, bio-diesel became a no-brainer to those involved with this project.
School officials began researching and studying the idea of producing bio-diesel fuel last spring. Members of the Transportation Department worked closely with the Centralina Council of Governments to learn about the benefits of bio-diesel fuel. Grady spent quite a bit of time researching the production of bio-diesel on the internet, reading books and documents, and watching different documentaries about producing bio-diesel. After a while, he realized that the production of bio-diesel was not overly complicated and decided to go for it.
Several local restaurants have already joined in partnership with the school system to donate used vegetable oil. Additionally, the system hopes to get other local restaurants & businesses to provide used oil.
Superintendent Ed Sadler says, “It’s a win, win situation – the benefits for the environment are tremendous and economically it will save us thousands of dollars. We are extremely proud of our transportation department for being on the cutting edge in producing bio-diesel fuel by recycling used oil from our nutrition department.”
GCS transportation officials expect to produce about 12,000 gallons of bio-diesel fuel this year with the possibility of producing more than 60,000 gallons per year in the future. While 12,000 gallons represents four percent of the school system's total fuel usage, the production of bio-diesel fuel over the next two years could account for more than one-fifth of the supply and a savings of about $150,000 at today’s diesel fuel prices. Currently, they run the bio-diesel mix in older buses & fuel trucks that are out of warranty and have had no complications.