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Teacher’s idea for biofuel plane trip is taking flight

February 20, 2013

Ponaganset High School science teacher Ross McCurdy, left, and Tomoharu Nishino, treasurer of the Paramus Flying Club, stand beside the club’s diesel Cessna 182.

GLOCESTER — It's been an exciting past few years for science teacher Ross “Mad Dog” McCurdy and his whiz kids at Ponaganset High School.
In 2008, McCurdy and his students were recognized nationally for their Fuel Cell Model T, a hydrogen-powered car built by the students under McCurdy's guidance. McCurdy has taught a class about fuel cells and other renewable energy technologies for several years and the transformed Model T replica is still being used to teach new students about the potential uses of fuel cells.
A couple of years back, the school organized a coast-to-coast biodiesel demonstration road trip, in which students drove a pickup truck 3,000 miles from Rhode Island to California using only biodiesel fuel.
Now, McCurdy is getting ready next month for another renewable energy project: a biofuel airplane flight.
That's right. At 11 a.m. on Saturday, March 2, a four-passenger, single-engine Cessna 182 co-piloted by McCurdy will take off from North Central State Airport in Lincoln and attempt a 500-mile flight to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on jet fuel made from used cooking oil.
"I've been working on this since the coast-to-coast biodiesel pickup project that we achieved the summer of 2008," says McCurdy. "The goals of this flight are to demonstrate the potential of aviation biofuels and all renewable energy, as well as the high efficiency and other benefits of aviation diesel engines."
The SkyNRG aviation biofuel that the plane will use is made from used cooking oil and blended 50-50 with petroleum Jet A to meet aviation fuel standards.
Biodiesel, or biofuel, is typically produced from plant oils such as corn, soybean and canola, and can be produced from fresh plant oils or from used cooking oils from restaurants, particularly ones that serve fast food. Using the magic of chemistry, the oils undergo a chemical change called transesterification that removes the glycerin and thins it out so it has a lower viscosity and flows pretty much like regular petroleum diesel.

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