SCC mechanics students get cooking

When you walk into an automotive shop you don’t expect to see men in crisp white lab coats and surgical masks sporting plastic green gloves. But Pete Wolosin’s Engine Performance II class at Southwestern Community College is anything but ordinary.

Wolosin and his students are making biodiesel fuel. And they are doing it with used cooking oil from the college’s culinary arts kitchen.

“I’ve got to prepare these students for the future, and that future includes alternative fuel sources,” said Wolosin.

Wolosin’s students learn first-hand the chemistry involved in the biodiesel process, which includes cooking oil, methanol and potassium hydroxide.

“If you don’t mix it properly, you will end up making soap,” Matt Holland, a SCC student from Sylva, said, holding up their first batch, a two-liter bottle full of soap. “We learned quickly what not to do,” he said.

The class used a funnel to pour the mixture of cooking oil, methanol and potassium hydroxide into another container to shake it. After shaking, the mixture changed color and eventually settled into two distinct layers: the bottom is a waste byproduct of glycerin and the top is the biodiesel.

“Not one war has been fought over this oil,” said student Art Zanotti of Sylva.

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