Page last updated at 17:42 GMT, Monday, 12 November 2007

School finds green fuel solution

By Richard Scott
BBC News

Last summer saw a little known tax change which means you can power your car for very little - using a fuel made from cooking oil.

Rule changes by HM Revenue and Customs allow people to produce up to 2,500 litres of bio-diesel tax free.

Fuelling up
Swavesey Village College pupils fill up their bus with bio-diesel

This means that someone with a diesel car could actually run it - in terms of the fuel, at least - for pennies a litre.

Thousands of people are now thought to be creating their own diesel at home, often with kits set up in sheds or garages.

But it is not just residential users.

Swavesey Village College, near Cambridge, has started to produce bio-fuel for use in its minibus, thanks to a grant from the East of England Development Agency.

Children in the 11-16 age range, who are members of the Science and Engineering Club, are running the scheme.

So how do you make this bio-diesel? You first need a machine to make the fuel - these start at around 1,000.

The main ingredient is vegetable oil, which it is often possible to get free from restaurants or takeaways which might otherwise have to pay to get rid of it.

Swavesey Village College is using waste oil from the school canteen, but since healthier meals at lunchtime were introduced, there is not enough - so it is getting an extra supply from the local pub instead.

Steve Howard
Assistant principal Steve Howard says bio-diesel 'helps environment'

The school's assistant principal, Steve Howard, said: "It allows the pupils to see there's technology available which will help the environment and which will allow them to be sustainable in what they're doing."

The oil is heated and mixed with some chemical additives, then cleaned to remove impurities. It usually takes about 24 hours to produce the end product.

Vehicles using the new diesel do not need to be specially adapted but manufacturers warn that you use the fuel at your own risk and that it could invalidate your warranty if something goes wrong.

But the kit-makers claim the bio-fuel is a better lubricant than normal diesel and can actually extend an engine's lifespan.

Science lessons

Chris Elvey, managing director of Ecotec Resources, said: "The worst thing that could happen is it could block your filter from the residue left by the fossil fuel."

He added that the total cost is around 12p per litre, as long as you get the oil for free. If you buy in the oil, then costs might be nearer to 40p per litre. The average price of a litre of diesel at the pumps is now more than 1.

For the pupils at Swavesey, the whole process is being brought into the curriculum.

Maths and science lessons will be used to analyse the effects of using the bio-diesel, including the amount of carbon emissions and money that is saved.

Quick guide: Biofuels
24 Jan 07 |  Science/Nature
EU biofuel policy is a 'mistake'
17 Aug 07 |  Science/Nature
Biofuels 'will not lead to hunger'
05 Oct 06 |  Science/Nature

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