When his daughter's school in Cottonwood, Arizona, was threatened by budget cuts, Michael Rogers decided to do something to help. The journey to school, just a few miles away, was taking his daughter an hour because of reduced bus routes. Rogers, determined to help, created Biodiesel U.S. Inc., or B.U.S. for short.
B.U.S. Inc. "is a waste-to-fuel organization that provides free fuel for schools." This fuel, however, is not your average gas or diesel. Rather, it is biodiesel that has been processed from waste vegetable oil by Rogers himself.
Determined to save the schools money, he began looking at the science behind biofuels. "We came up with this idea that we could collect waste vegetable oil and actually convert it into biodiesel, react it, and then give it to the schools for them to save money," he explains.
The process itself is relatively simple, takes only a matter of days, if not hours, to complete and has no harmful bi-products. Rogers emphasizes that "with biodiesel, you can use one unit of energy to make three units of energy. It's just a cleaner process, it doesn't take millions of years to make."
Rogers began with idea of providing schools with their own equipment to process the waste oil into fuel but as that required both time and money, he decided to convert the fuel himself and donate it directly to the schools.
It was no easy feat to get the schools on board at first. As Rogers says, "the main challenge was just trying to get the school to actually put the fuel in their bus." Their natural skepticism about the money it would actually save them was combined with uncertainty about the work involved in using the biodiesel in their buses.
Tim Klechak, lead mechanic at one of the Cottonwood schools working with B.U.S. Inc., explains that "I was pretty skeptical but Mike came to us and he agreed to donate the fuel and I agreed to try one bus."
Klechak was surprised by the results. Far from being more work for him, he says that "to get a bus ready for biodiesel, we haven't done anything. We just put it in the tank and that's it, blend it, and we're ready to go. We haven't done anything."
The schools use what is called a 'blend' in their buses. Rather than using only the biodiesel, they mix it in with their regular diesel, usually creating a blend of 30 percent biodiesel. While many school bus engines are actually "certified, 100 percent biodiesel," says Rogers, the warrantees usually become void if only biodiesel is used.
To make the biodiesel, B.U.S. Inc. collects waste vegetable oil from local restaurants and hotels. As restaurants often have to pay to have their oil collected, this saves them money but it also allows them to contribute to their local community.
Something that would have gone to waste is now being used to help get children to school. Even for those restaurants who sell their waste vegetable oil to companies who recycle it, donating to B.U.S. Inc. means that the benefits are given directly to those who most need it.
As Executive Chef, Ron Moler, explains, "I was really excited to be able to take a product that we're pretty much through with and do something very significant with and not just have it thrown away or done something with it. Now we can actually make a difference."
The work of B.U.S. Inc. does not stop at providing fuel, however. Rogers will often go into the schools to teach the children about the process of making biodiesel. It not only encourages them to ask questions and learn about a new science but it opens them to the world of alternative fuels.
Rogers also does as much as he can to help schools in other ways. He explains that "we will continue to fund them through assistance like field trips or paying for teachers' art work -- their pencils, paper, tape, or whatever they need."
Rogers's passion is learning as much as he can about biodiesel. His aim is to help as many schools and children as possible. Budget cuts are difficult on all parties at the schools and just as he wanted to help shorten his own daughter's journey to school, Rogers is making sure other children can travel to school safely and quickly.
"It's very satisfying on the level of knowing that you can deliver 100 gallons to a school saying 'I just saved them $400, just by making some fuel for them' and then go into a restaurant and say 'hey, thank you -- you were able to provide a field trip for the 3rd grade class.' It just feels good," he said.