CLOVER -- Flint Holbrook dreams of the day when cruise ships, airplanes and manufacturing plants will run on fuel made from algae.
But for now he's content to experiment with running tractors on used restaurant oil.
Holbrook, 18, a rising senior at Clover High School, has been researching and experimenting with biodiesel fuel for about three years at his home.
"We've finally got all the equipment and we got everything working," said Holbrook, son of Beverly and Flint Holbrook.
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Biodiesel is typically made by mixing some form of vegetable oil with chemicals to make a diesel alternative.
With the national price of gas averaging more than $4 a gallon and diesel nearing $4.80 a gallon, Holbrook's experiments may become the fuel of the future rather than a random science project.
Holbrook heard about biodiesel during one of his agriculture classes at Clover High. He then did research online, and using parts he bought or received from family friends, built his own processor.
He's found that biodiesel burns cleaner than regular diesel and is totally biodegradable. During the tests with off-road tractors he could automatically tell the improved performance.
"You could hear the engine quiet right down and you could smell a big difference in the smell of the exhaust," he said.
Over the last two years, he's made a couple hundred gallons in test batches. He has spoken to several farm groups about his research and results and, earlier this year, he won the state proficiency for agricultural energy systems through Future Farmers of America.
Clover's FFA advisor Carrie Bolin said Holbrook has done more research on this project than most college students know how to do and it will prepare him well for a career in agriculture.
"Biodiesel is going to be one of our fields of the future," Bolin said. "I think Flint is on the bandwagon ... He will have more knowledge than others and will be able to educate the future agriculturists on biodiesel."
But Holbrook doesn't see his accomplishments as that unusual.
"I would say for the most part, the average person could do it," he said. "You could go to the grocery store and get just about everything you need."
Using the free oil from restaurants and combining it with methanol and sodium hydroxide, he makes the fuel for about $1.10 a gallon. If he were to use it to fuel a vehicle on public roads, though, he would be required to pay about $.50 in state taxes per gallon.
"That's still saving a lot," he said.
His processor can make about 100 gallons in 48 hours.
"Usually about the first two hours require intervention and then past that it's just really coming out and switching a switch or a valve," he said.
Biodiesel can be made from a wide variety of oils ranging from corn to soybean oil.
"I think in the future we'll be turning to algae production in the future," Holbrook said. "It yields 100,000 gallons an acre."
Right now, Holbrook is one of a handful of people in this area who are using the biodiesel.
The biggest hindrance that seems to keep people from doing it is the time involved, he said. It's also important to be careful with handling the chemicals
"You got to have the proper safety procedures in place," he said.
Beverly Holbrook was nervous at first when her son started because of the dangers involved, but she knew once he started he would follow through, she said.
"He's very responsible with it," she said. "He didn't blow up the shop."
She's been amazed at the support he's received, not just from the Future Farmers of America group, but across the board from the community, she said.
"People are glad to see him take the initiative and try to find an alternative," she said.
After he graduates, Flint said he might consider a career in the alternative fuel industry.
"Eventually I'd like to do a commercial plant, but obviously that would come after college," he said.
Between now and then he hopes to just keep experimenting and telling others about he's learned.
If you would like some more information about the process you can visit Holbrook's Web site, comprehensivebiodieselguide.com.