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Grease Up and Go: Alternative Fuel

Ever wonder what to do with the leftover bacon grease from Saturday morning breakfast? Ever considered using it as fuel for your Fiat? It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds.

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Justin Carven and Skip Wrightson of Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., converted Carven’s VW Westfalia van to run on cooking grease with a water-heated fuel system. No stops at BP for these guys; they always refuel at the nearest Burger King or McDonald’s.

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As ridiculous as it sounds, the idea stems from a reputable source. When diesel engine inventor Rudolph Diesel exhibited his invention at the 1900 World’s Fair, it ran off peanut oil.

According to Carven and Wrightson, most diesel engines with pre-combustion chambers can run on a variety of oils when given basic modifications. “Currently, the engine [is started] on fossil-based diesel fuel (or bio-diesel) until the vegetable oil tank has reached operational temperature,” says Carven. “Once warmed, a switch is turned and pre-heated vegetable oil is burned in the engine. When the engine is to be shut down for the day, the switch is turned again and the engine is run on diesel fuel for a short period to flush the engine of cooling vegetable oils.”

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To prove a car can run on grease, the pair left from Cape Cod in the Greasecar last summer for a two-month road trip.

When they stopped in Chicago, they “greased up” with canola oil at Bar Louie, a place around the corner from Wrigley Field. Pretty cool.

In Oakland, Calif., they met a guy named Schultz, who was so impressed with the Greasecar that he made a lid for the grease tank from the gas lid of a 1956 Pontiac. “Now we can actually ‘fill ‘er up’ all the way,” says Wrightson.

After cruising through California, the guys were ready to head back East. With fairly smooth sailing (or driving) through most of the trip, they weren’t prepared for what happened 25 miles east of Des Moines, Iowa.

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“Oil was gushing out of the main seal for a reason yet to be determined,” says Carven. “It could’ve been a number of things, but we weren’t theorizing about it on the bottom of an exit ramp.”

Still, the pair kept their sense of humor. “We kicked back, laughed a little and wondered if the Smithsonian would be interested in taking the Greasecar off our hands.”

Since summer was ending and Wrightson had to return to school, the guys rented a U-Haul and towed the Greasecar the rest of the way home. It was a bit of a bummer, but Carven says that, overall, he was happy with their cross-country trek.

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“The Greasecar trip … put the name and the technology out there,” he says. “The van wasn’t the finest running machine and that caused some problems in the long run, but we were able to prove that vegetable oil is a viable renewable fuel.” Grease is the word. A

Writer Emily Canning is an intern with BodyShop Business.

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