Blythewood High School unveils expanded biodiesel production lab, hopes to power district buses with the fuel

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Published: Mar. 18, 2022 at 8:10 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 18, 2022 at 8:27 PM EDT
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BLYTHEWOOD, S.C. (WIS) - Blythewood High School unveiled its newly expanded biodiesel production laboratory on Friday, which Richland School District Two hopes will help power the district into the future.

Through the Bengal Biodiesel Laboratory, students take donated cooking oil, filter it and process it into fuel that can be used in diesel engines.

The lab is run through a chemistry course at the high school that has been in place for five years. With the expansion, the lab has significantly scaled up its operations.

Will Epps, a Blythewood High chemistry teacher, had the idea for the programs. He works as a chemist over the summer, and noticed a high turnover at labs. He wanted to find a way to train his students to enter the STEM jobs of tomorrow.

“We make biodiesel here, that’s our product,” he said. “But the real product is our students in making sure that they’re prepared for their future, whatever that may be, whether that’s enlisting, enrolling or employment.”

The expansion of the program was made possible by grants from the South Carolina Energy Office and Green Energy Biofuels. Through these grants and a donation of a trailer from the University of South Carolina in February, the facility can soon ramp up production to 150 gallons of biodiesel per week.

Previously, the lab was only capable of producing one to 40 gallons per week.

This is only the second lab of its kind in the nation with this production capacity. The other is run out of Rockwood Summit High School in Fenton, Missouri.

Blythewood high senior Ayden Stevens said she’s grateful to be part of this unique opportunity.

“I sit back and I think every day, ‘I’m really a part of this big picture and production of something that’s going to be known widely across South Carolina,’” she said. “I’m really proud to be in this program and just see it and help every single day advance it even further.”

To this point, students have been testing the school’s tractors with the fuel, but the ultimate goal is to power some of the district’s fleet of school buses. Epps said he hopes to accomplish this with his students before the end of the semester.

“It gives our students a sense of pride and ownership about the work that they do, and seeing that work put into place in our very own school district and now supporting the community in which they come from,” Richland Two Superintendent Dr. Baron Davis said at Friday’s ribbon-cutting event.

In addition to creating saving for fuel costs, biodiesel also reduces carbon emissions.

“We’re working together with our community partners to make a greener future,” Epps said.

Students gain over 100 hours of experience in an industrial lab by taking part, which makes them eligible for local chemical engineering and other lab internships.

Austin Dipner, a Blythewood High senior, said his participation in this curriculum has fueled his interest in science and chemistry.

“Beforehand science was always something I was interested in, but it wasn’t that big on my radar, something that I might want to do,” he said. “But once I was able to actually get into here and get industry experience in an actual hands-on lab, it felt so much better and it just clicked with me that this was what I wanted to do.”

Davis said this is an example of the district’s mission statement coming to fruition.

“We help our students to become global citizens of tomorrow, prepared to lead and excel in their chosen pathways,” he said. “And this is an example of our students finding their pathways, finding their purpose and now leading and exceling in that, not just here in South Carolina but also across the nation.”

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