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Cooking oil fuels science club victory

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Jacob Morley, a member of the prize-winning Whitney Young biodiesel HEROES and a future student at U

Jacob Morley, a member of the prize-winning Whitney Young biodiesel HEROES and a future student at UIC.

Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin

Whitney Young High School science club students who use a UIC engineering lab to convert discarded cooking oil into biodiesel fuel call themselves "HEROES" an acronym for "Helping to Engender Renewable Organic Energy Sources."

But around Whitney Young these days, they're known as "winners."

"We won first prize in the Lexus Eco Challenge," crowed Whitney Young science teacher Brian Sievers, who earned his master's in mechanical engineering from UIC.

From among 500 competing high school teams around the United States, Whitney Young's HEROES secured first place and a total prize of $25,000 in the competition, held in late March.

They converted gooey, oozy used cooking oil into clear liquid, clean biodiesel one of many alternative fuels explored these days as a transition from petroleum.

Farzad Mashayek, professor and head of mechanical engineering, let Sievers and his students use UIC's combustion research lab in the Science and Engineering Laboratories building to do their work. Professor Suresh Aggarwal and laboratory grad students assisted.

The team cobbled together a biodiesel processor using about $2,500 in donated bits and parts, straining some 1,500 gallons of used cooking grease to create biodiesel that fuels vehicles for nonprofit groups.

"We want to supply Truck Farm Chicago and Terrona Farms in Peotone [two nonprofits] with biodiesel," said Sievers.  "We want to start taking glycerin, a byproduct of biodiesel, and make eco-friendly soap from it."

The HEROES student team and Whitney Young's science department will share the winnings. 

Sievers, who received an Award for Teaching Excellence from the Illinois affiliate of the National Education Association, will travel to China this summer with other winners to study educational methods in that country.

Sievers said his Whitney Young students will continue making biodiesel as new students come on board.

Two who'll graduate in June are going on to college.  One Jacob Morley starts classes at UIC this fall as a pre-med student.

"The concept of reusing materials is interesting," said Morley. 

"I've taken a lot of science and math courses, so this has been a lot of fun. I'd never been able to apply research like this."


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