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Archive for Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Vegetable oil fuels cross-country bus trip

May 21, 2003

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— A group of college students has set out on a post-finals cross-country road trip that is going to smell a lot like french fries.

But at least there won't be any squabbles about gas money: Their converted school bus is fueled by used vegetable oil from cafeterias and fast-food restaurants.

The 13 Middlebury College students said they wanted to combine their rite-of-passage road trip with an environmental message.

Vegetable oil creates less pollution than diesel fuel, said Thomas Hand, 19, who took a crash course at Middlebury in converting diesel tractor engines to run on vegetable oil.

"It's an energy source that comes from the United States. It's being self-sufficient," Hand said. "Also, it's free. It's using some resource that was going to be thrown away and reusing it."

Middlebury College students with Project Bio Bus stand on the old
school bus modified to run on used vegetable oil in Middlebury, Vt.
The group is touring rock-climbing destinations and dropping off
college friends along the way while driving across the country this
summer.

Middlebury College students with Project Bio Bus stand on the old school bus modified to run on used vegetable oil in Middlebury, Vt. The group is touring rock-climbing destinations and dropping off college friends along the way while driving across the country this summer.

The students are not the first to power their wheels with vegetable oil. Activist Joshua Tickell drove about 25,000 miles on his "Veggie Van USA" tours in the late 1990s.

The Middlebury students left campus Monday night and plan to arrive in Conway, Wash., by June 11, with plenty of stops in between to drop off classmates and do some rock climbing.

Along the way, they will be keeping an eye out for restaurants to get them there. Based on a few trial runs in Vermont, the students -- several of whom are environmental studies majors -- are optimistic they will find the fuel they need.

They are sure to draw attention: They will be cruising no faster than 55 mph, with "Powered by Veggie Oil" painted on the back of the bus. And the oil "smells a little bit like whatever it was used to fry -- sometimes you get onion rings, french fries, chicken patties," Hand said.

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