Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Greasy Rider (copy)

Continuing this summer’s armchair travel theme, it is time for a road trip. This week I hopped in the car with Greg Melville and his college buddy, Iggy, for a cross country from Vermont to California as reported in Melville’s book Greasy Rider. As one may guess, this is not a typical vacation. We are traveling in a 1985 Mercedes 300TD wagon converted to burn vegetable oil, and we are proving to be the first “Greasecar” to traverse America.

Did you know that diesel engines were designed to run on vegetable oil instead of fossil fuels? When Rudolf Diesel designed his first engine he powered it with peanut oil. His idea was to maintain a farmer’s self-sufficient nature by allowing him to produce fuel from his own crop to run a flywheel engine. In the 1900s this might have been practical, but in the age of relatively cheap diesel fuel it is slightly easier to pump from a gas station than plant, fertilize, irrigate, spray insecticide, etc. a crop, for example cotton for the cottonseed oil.

Yes, today’s diesel engines can burn vegetable oil after installing a conversion kit. Unfortunately, Melville’s kit cost $8,000 and to most owners who already have a car note this added expense is too pricey. It is easy to justify the onetime expense when fuel is free though. With an additional $25, one can purchase a filter system and then pull to the back of any fast food restaurant and ask for the used deep-fry oil.

As you can guess, we got a little on the Kentucky Fried Chicken side of funky. At the first toll booth we were waved through as a possible gesture of support, or the fact that we reminded him it was time for lunch. Whatever the case, we made ourselves hungry, too as the smell permeated our clothes and hair after one day on the road.

There are two bad scenarios associated with free fry oil. One, we have to ask for permission to take the used oil. Two, filtering is a nasty project. We quickly got over the embarrassment of asking since many times the need outweighed the humiliation. Most often we gained permission only to find the oil dumpster empty or the oil full of chunks such as taco chips. Filtering can be a fast process if the oil is clean; otherwise, we purchased in bulk fuses that blew with the chunks. Out of frustration one night, Iggy ran to the nearby Wal-Mart and purchased Wesson.

Off route, readers will also visit attractions such as Al Gore’s not so green home in Tennessee, a geothermal heated and cooled Fort Knox in Kentucky, a “green” Wal-Mart in Texas, and a solar-powered Google in California. Sit back and enjoy the scenery in this eco-friendly read.


Paul said...

This sounds different and interesting Maggie ! :-)

maggie moran said...

It's good Paul!

Jeane said...

I saw a clip on tv about a guy who powered his car with used oil, he collected it from restaurants, mostly. At first I thought cool, what a cheap way to get gas. Then they showed this huge contraption in his garage that filtered, cleaned and converted the oil (or something)to make it fit to use in his car. It took a long time, he had to sit and watch it, and I can't remember the price of that thing, but it looked outrageous!

Crazy. I think I'd be curious to read this book, though.

serendipity_viv said...

This sounds a really interesting book. I didn't realise about the diesel engines designed to run on vegetable oil. So why don't people actually use it instead.

Anonymous said...

I have to read this! Your great review hit on all the crazy notes I'm looking for :)

Vickie said...

Oh, this looks so good!

Eva said...

Having read Fast Food Nation, I'm curious if the authors discuss their dependence on fast food chains (who are decidedly not eco-friendly) at all. :)

That thing about diesel engines is super-interesting! It's such an American thing too, hehe, a farmer wanting to increase his self-sufficiency. (I mean that in a good way.)

Sharon said...

That sounds like a fun book to read. I didn't know that about diesel engins. What a road trip!

maggie moran said...

Imagine the smell of his garage too, Jeane. Every roach and rat in the neighborhood must think it nervana! The filtering system they used on the road was extremely basic and cost them $24. I'm not sure why I rounded up to the 25, but they got it down to an art which took 20 minutes with two men on constant alert for trash in the oil! They interviewed a rich man who drove a veggie car for fun and his filtering system was very elaborate, but then think of his poor neighbors in this gated golf subdivision! :P

The theory of least resistance Scrap girl. It is way too easy to pull up to a gas station pump than convert an engine and find a reliable and clean source of used canola oil which has to be filtered before filling up the tank. One day though... ;D

Cool, Stacy! I read it in two sittings! Yae! :)

Ew, Vickie! I can see a line of Ford products called "veggie cars" and shaped like corn, tomato, okra, cucumber, etc! :D

I believe it was Fast Food Nation where the author talks about McDonald's use of beef grease in the french-fry oil and that is a no-no in veggie cars. Lards are too thick to use in diesel engines, Eva. They did not discuss to any length the ethics of taking grease from restaurants other than mentioning how fast-food joints pay a service to take the used oil away and dispose of it, and the managers were usually agreeable for the cost savings and happenstance the recycling. They also took some oil they consider holy manna from a chinese place w/o asking for permission and were ribbed for stealing.

Speaking of the farmers - The book did not say American farmers and I jumped to that conclusion, too. That is until I looked ole Rudolf and read his bio. He was interested in saving the little guy money and keep him less dependent on the government in London!!! In the 1900's he wanted to help farmers and independant truck (lorry) drivers! Since the books does not clarify, I see no reason to do it for them in this booktalk. ;D

Beep! Beep! Sharon! I think it is also a great book for college bound, starry eyed freshmen! :D

Hans said...

The usage of vegetable oils and in the instance of Waste Vegetale Oil is quite commonly established in many European countries and the US.
Your conversion cost to me sounds like very expensive, a the very most it should cost half.
We sell US made centrifuges in Europe that can speed up the filtration process of Waste Vegetable Oil. The US Centrifuge company is called Dieselcraft.
Our simple and reliable plant oil conversion systems can be seen on Youtube:

maggie moran said...

Why thank you Hans! Yes, the book does mention a country that has a high rate of veggie cars, but I forget where and the book has been returned to the library. I also believe labor cost in America out weigh the country Melville wrote about, too. His conversion kit was for a mercedes and we all know how costs double or even triple for foreign makes. ;D

Centrifuge should do the trick on warm days, I guess one rotates a little faster when the temperture drops. ;D Thanks for stopping by!

Tiffany Norris said...

Sounds really interesting! I have a feeling I'm going to be wishing for the "cheaper" gas all summer long. :)

maggie moran said...

Amen, Tiffany! We were noticing how prices were slowly returning to last summer's w/o all the hoopla. :(

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this ,if engines are good it will reach fast...............

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