Thursday, December 14, 2006

Alternative Fuel Vehicles

Seems some SCSU employees have it figured out. US Senate Candidate Robert Fitzgerald travelled around the state in a bus powered by fryer oil waste.

Enjoy...and yeah, John Roberson was from Annandale.

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (AP) — John Roberson doesn't stop at the gas station when his car is running low on fuel. Instead, he heads to the nearest fast food restaurant.

Roberson fills up the 55-gallon tank on his 1979 Mercedes 240D with vegetable oil that was already used to cook French fries and chicken strips. While nearly everyone else pays $2-$3 a gallon for petroleum-based fuel, Roberson pays nothing for his ``veggie'' fuel — or for the satisfaction that comes with knowing he's doing his part to reduce pollution and the nation's dependence on foreign oil.

Roberson and his fellow St. Cloud State University employees Darrin Printy and Timothy Gardner are among a small but dedicated group across the country who are looking for cheaper, cleaner fuel alternatives.

``It seemed like a good idea. I'm not a big fan of going to the gas station every week and buying 10 or 20 gallons of fuel to commute,'' said Roberson, who lives about 20 miles away in Monticello.

Much attention has been paid to biodiesel, a processed blend of vegetable oil, petroleum diesel and alcohol. Minnesota law requires that all diesel sold in the state contain at least 2 percent biodiesel.

But the cars driven by Roberson, Printy and Gardner run on straight vegetable oil salvaged from deep fat fryers. After tracking down a used car with a diesel engine, Roberson bought an $800 conversion kit that he installed himself one weekend.

It included a tank in the trunk to hold the oil, some coolant lines, a dashboard switch and a fuel gauge. Roberson bought the car last April, and said it's been running great since.

``I was a little concerned with the cold weather this week ... and it ran just fine,'' he said.

The cars use regular diesel fuel to start and stop. But once it's warmed up, the driver switches over to vegetable oil. The cars get about the same gas mileage, 25 to 30 mpg, as a traditional diesel engine, and Roberson estimates he gets almost 100 miles for every gallon of diesel he uses.

All three men said that restaurants they approached were eager to get rid of their used oil. Roberson and Printy both get theirs from the burger chain Culver's.

Restaurants typically have to pay to get used oil disposed of. ``It eliminates their waste, plus it's basically free,'' said Barb Behling, public relations director for the Wisconsin-based chain.

Behling said she was getting at least a call a week last summer from people interested in oil for veggie-fueled cars, at a time when gas prices rose to around $3 a gallon. Calls have dwindled as gas prices have dropped, she said.

The St. Cloud State colleagues admit veggie cars probably aren't for everyone. Roberson and Gardner are both car guys who were able to install the converters themselves, and those less mechanically inclined would need to pay to get it done.

You also have to be willing to forsake style. Most of the converted cars are at least 20 years old, because older diesel models have proven easier to modify. That can mean more expense when it comes to repairs or replacing parts.

The three men said it helps a lot to have friends in the same veggie-powered boat.``Between the three of us, we're able to compare notes and keep things running,'' Printy said.

Both Printy and Robertson also installed mini ``refineries'' in their garages in order to make it easier to strain the oil to remove bits of French fries and other contaminants.

``It's a lot more work to do this than to just pull up to a gas station and put your credit card in and lift the handle,'' Roberson said.

``I don't know that it's a drawback, because it actually makes you think about some of the work and the product that goes into your car to get you from point A to point B.

''Then there's the smell. But that one's not necessarily a drawback.

``I think it kind of smells like a cross between French fries ... and grilling something on the grill,'' Roberson said. ``It smells a lot better to me than the regular diesel smoke. It gives you the munchies.''

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