Chemistry Club Donates Biodiesel To Honor Earth Day

SOCORRO, N.M. May 1, 2012 – To commemorate Earth Day, the Chemistry Club at New Mexico Tech donated 30 gallons of biodiesel that the members had made from waste vegetable oil.

Chem Club members Oluwaseun Ogunro (from left), Laura Montoya, Seth Price, Spencer Lane, Tim Richard, Brianna Hendrickson, Alyssa Lucero, Marki Martinez, and Megan Breiner donated 30 gallons of biodiesel to Socorro Consolidated Schools to mark Earth Day, which was April 21..

Club members Estella Magallanes and Bryce Carson pour liquid nitrogen into a Dewar while Hannah Sullivan and Renee Kafka enjoy their ice cream.

Carson and Magallanes  pour liquid nitrogen into a bowl full of their pre-mixed ingredients during Spring Fling.

Dr. Michael Heagy entertains and educates Socorro second-graders during a special Chem Club outreach effort during the FAll 2012 semester.

Thanks to two $500 grants from the American Chemical Society, the club spent several months refining and filtering waste oil collected from local fast-food restaurants. The resulting biodiesel was given to Socorro Consolidated Schools and represented about the amount that the bus fleet uses in one day.

Chemistry professor Dr. Michael Heagy secured the two grants – one from the national American Chemical Society and the other from the New Mexico chapter.

Heagy did most of the set-up work and then drafted the Chemistry Club to do the dirty work.

“It’s oily, smelly stuff,” club president Laura Montoya said. “Cleaning the filters was difficult. I helped with a lot of that part.”

The grants helped Heagy purchase the materials to build the filtering column, the chemicals and other materials. The apparatus filtered up to five gallons a day. Montoya said the experience was educational because of the scale and the use of waste oil.

“We got to be involved in something rare at this scale,” she said. “Usually this reaction is done as a demo and produces a liter. We made about 120 liters. It was fun to scale it up to something useful.”

Most biodiesel demonstrations typically use clean vegetable oil.

“There’s a world of difference between buying new vegetable oil from a supermarket versus going to a fast-food place and working with that oil,” Heagy said. “That was an eye-opening experience. It’s a good use of it because a lot gets thrown into the Dumpster.”

The Chemistry Club’s donation to the school district is just one outreach project students undertake each year. Last year the club received an ACS Innovative Project Grant to enhance the Socorro High School Chemistry Lab.

With the cooperation of SHS chemistry teacher Jared Kempton (also a Tech graduate), the Tech club provided chemicals, supplies and insights for the students as they introduced the new experiments.

The Techies designed five experiments and provided all the materials. Montoya said the club’s goal was to help kick-start a permanent chemistry lab regimen for Socorro High students.

The club’s efforts were highlighted in the March edition of the official American Chemical Society’s national student magazine, In Chemistry.

The club also participates in activities closer to home at the Tech campus. Twice a year – during 49ers and Spring Fling – club members make a huge batch of ice cream by using liquid nitrogen.

“Judging by how much we go through every year, people must like it,” Montoya said.

Students virtually buy all the heavy cream in Socorro, Montoya said. “We made quite an impression when we went to pay for our shopping carts full of ingredients. We make it fresh – heavy cream, half-and-half, sugar, fresh strawberries. Once you have that mixed up, you dump in the liquid nitrogen and keep stirring it really hard for 2 or 3 minutes.”

Stirring up about one gallon at a time, club members feed 10 gallons to hungry students and staff.

The Club also helped organize a day of special demonstrations for 120 second-graders from Socorro last fall.

Club member Allen Erickson mixed up a generous helping of TATP (triacetone triperoxide), which produces a small but dramatic fireball when touched with a match.

Heagy and other club members did several other visually-appealing demonstrations to get youngsters familiar with the laboratory and, hopefully, interested in science.

For his efforts on that program – and other volunteer work on campus, Erickson won a Student Appreciation Award earlier this month.

Montoya, who was recently named a 2012-2013 Macey Scholar, said, “It’s great to see them come in and see them excited about science when they are young and you can influence them.”

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech