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Teacher Barry Latham gets 40-45 miles per gallon with biodiesel fuel that he and his chemistry students make from used cooking oil.

Latham, a member of Hope Christian Reformed Church in Oak Forest, Ill., teaches at a local public school. Each year he and his students convert 500-700 gallons (1,900-2,600 liters) of vegetable oil from the school cafeteria into biodiesel fuel.

Alcohol and lye are mixed into filtered cooking oil to make the fuel. The process takes about two days and costs 50-60 cents per gallon. And for every 30 gallons of oil that they convert to fuel, five gallons of glycerine (soap) are produced. Latham said, “This is a zero-waste product. Nothing goes down the drain, into a landfill, or into the air.” Latham and his students sell the soap at the many alternative energy fairs that they attend to display their biodiesel fuel project. They now plan to market the soap to their school, which will save the school money.

Latham uses the fuel in his own car, and it’s also used in one school district minibus as well as in a half-dozen trucks and tractors. In cold weather, the biodiesel fuel must be mixed with regular gasoline.

Latham is passionate about sharing the environmental benefits of recycling cooking oil and other green projects that he has helped to initiate at his school. His car advertises his website ( and the fact that it is powered by biodiesel fuel.  He has shared his knowledge of the process, gained by experimentation and research, with other teachers, and has prepared a packet of materials to help them launch similar programs with the help of energy grants.

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