Skip to Main Content


  1. Governor
  3. Innovation at Shepard High School: Building a solar-powered biodiesel system

Innovation at Shepard High School: Building a solar-powered biodiesel system 

Palos Heights, IL - Innovation and conservation collide at Alan B. Shepard High School. Led by physics teacher Brian Sievers, students have the opportunity to put their math and science skills to the test through the school's solar biofuel project. The project uses Navistar solar panels to power a small-scale cooking-oil refinery located in the Village of Crestwood's public works building.

The students from Sheparad High School have been involved from the start, repurposing a hot water heater for refining oil. Beyond the initial engineering smarts and do-it-yourself mentality of the first phase, students now analyse samples of purified oil, as well as the cooking oil they put into the system. They model fluid dynamics, bump up against entropy and learn how to communicate the science behind their work at the small-scale biofuel refinery. The students aren't the only ones that reap the benefits of the project, though. It has applications beyond the classroom that provide economic and environmental benefits.

After purifying the used cooking oil, the Crestwood Department of Public Works uses the biofuel in their fleet which includes everything from snow plows to heavy-duty trucks. Project supervisor Brian Sievers estimates that it costs a little less than $1.50 to produce a gallon of biodiesel using their equipment, providing immediate savings to the village while also reducing the carbon footprint involved with energy production.

The students think that other municipalities could easily undertake similar projects, especially with a little advice. "Besides Crewtwood, we are looking to not only give free eco-friendly fuel to other schools, towns, municipalities and forest preserve districts," wrote Sievers in an email, "but to help them build and operate their own biodiesel system."

Contact Brian Sievers for more information on the project and how other high schools and municipalities can start their own project.