Friday, February 26, 2010

Blue Ridge Biofuels

On Friday, February 12, the Power Trip field trip group went to Blue Ridge Biofuels in Asheville, NC. We met with a man named Woody, one of the original creators of the biofuels group and the head manager of the floor production. He gave us a tour.

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He informed us that employees drive to many different restaurants collecting used fry oil. The trucks can hold several thousand gallons of grease.
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Once back at the biofuels plant, they begin the process of refining the oil. The first step is to remove the food particles. They then add glycerin into the oil. The glycerin "scrubs" out the fatty acids. If fatty acids are not removed, they have the potential to become soaps and damage the fuel.

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Next, chemicals such as methanol are added to the oil. Methanol is potentially dangerous and needs to be handled very carefully. However, methanol is the step that makes the oil reactive and work as effecient fuel. They then remove the methanol by heating the oil above the boiling point of the methanol. They capture the methanol gasses, cool them, and return them to the methanol storage tank to be reused in later batches of fuel. This process of adding and removing the methanol must sometimes be repeated 4-5 times to achieve high quality fuel. After this step in the process, water is added to the oil to pull out other toxins and impurities.

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This water/oil mixture is allowed to sit for a period of time in a tall cylindrical tank. The water and impurities sink to the bottom and are removed from the oil.

Finally the remaining oil is strained through the same materials as is put in baby diapers, a great absorbant of water! This assures that all water is out. Now the oil is clean and ready to be used in a diesel vehicle.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

White Oak Mountain Coal Mining Debate

Monday, February 9th, 2010
In our class we prepared for a debate regarding a potential new mountain top removal site at White Oak Mountain, West Virginia. Students took on the personalities and arguments of different people involved in this real life event and prepared arguments to debate for and against this mountain top removal site. These were the players:
Cole Curtis - Bill Rainey, President of West Virginia Coal Association
Isaac Galton - Doug Wallace, County Comissioner
Emma Santoianno - Cecilia Roberts, President of UMWA (United Mine Workers Association)
Ariel Lindeman - Citizen against mountain top removal
Gressa Cedergren - Rachel Gardener, representative of White Oak community members
Imani Gouvia - Citizen against mountain top removal
Michelle Rehfield, Alessandra Muehlemann, Meghan Lundy-Jones - Members of the EPA voting whether or not to allow this new mountain top removal site

Below are some of the students presenting their sides:


It was a heated debate with excellent arguments on both sides. However, in the end the EPA decided that the advocates of mining the mountain had stronger arguments and that we would allow the coal company to begin mining there.


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Ariel Lindeman - Citizen against mountain top removal

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Gressa Cedergren - Rachel Gardener, representative of White Oak community members

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Emma Santoianno - Cecilia Roberts, President of UMWA (United Mine Workers Association)


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Isaac Galton - Doug Wallace, County Comissioner

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Cole Curtis - Bill Rainey, President of West Virginia Coal Association

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

How many tons could a coal mine truck if a coal mine could truck coal?

Yesterday, we began our exploration into the world of coal, as it's the primary resource for our electricity generation.

Here's some math to do for all my math homies out there:

The average home in the United States uses 5 tons of coal.

1 ton= 2,000 lbs

1 lb. of coal = 1 kwh = .10 on our electric bill

We pay about $10,000 on electricity bills at the Arthur Morgan School.

The utilities company says about 90- 95% of this energy comes from coal burning power plants.

Can you determine how many tons of coal our school uses?

How does it compare to the average house, considering that we have 17 buildings, 12 of which we use regularly?