Students Turn Sweet Potatoes Into Fuel

Rising gasoline prices have developed a better appreciation for a new class at Central Heights High School. It's called Energy and Environmental Technology and it's taught in the Agriculture Department.

High school ag classes are still about how to plant and grow crops. Central Heights ag teacher Larry Poe lines out his students.  " We're going to plant some switch grass on the other end of this row. Then we're going to plant sweet potatoes up on the more sandy land. " But Poe's lesson on sweet potatoes, sugar cane and switch grass isn't about food, but rather fuel.    " All three of these crops are being used as a bio fuel, " explained Poe to his students.

Poe keeps his students on the cutting edge of environmental technology. He's already shown them how to make bio diesel out of grease. The homemade fuel powered a pickup and tractor.   Now Poe is experimenting with sweet potatoes to make ethanol. The recipe starts out like any sweet potato dish. "You cook them." It changes after that.     "You add yeast culture and water and it makes ethanol. It does have to be distilled, " instructed Poe.

Science, chemistry and economics are all lessons taught by this ag teacher. " the farmer is having a rough time. Hay season is about to start and it will cost more to roll the bales. The fertilizer we put on the ground is costing more. The feed we give the animals cost more.    All input items are going up and we're in the cost price squeeze. "

It's a pretty practical lesson for students, especially the ones with cars. They know what it takes to fuel up a tank. Senior Ashley Compton said, " Most of my check, so it's not very good." Students are finding out you have to plan ahead for the next tank of gas for this week and distant future. Junior Russell Caraway learned,  " Without this we're not going to have fuel cause the amount of renewable resources aren't going to be around forever. " Poe said,  " We tell the students that this may be the most important class as far as the affect on their future. "  An interest that some students may cultivate to fuel our future.