Alternative fuel takes a road trip

Grease: Chesapeake High students examine a school bus that has been converted to run on waste vegetable oil.

September 28, 2004|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

The solution to reducing dependence on foreign fuel might be found in a restaurant's deep fryer, two Chesapeake High School graduates told environmental sciences classes there yesterday.

Former Pasadena residents Christo Corsaut and Danielle Stinson have taken a semester off from college to travel across the country in their RV, a converted school bus that has been modified to run primarily on waste vegetable oil. The two have logged thousands of miles, with reduced particulate emissions thanks to recycled grease.

"We accepted the quest to inform as many people as we could," Corsaut said. "We realized it really was an opportunity to promote a healthier way to travel."

Corsaut and Stinson discovered vegetable oil technology while looking for a cheap, comfortable way to get to a festival in northern California.

The two 20-year-old psychology majors purchased a $3,000 school bus at an auction this year - the first vehicle they have owned. They and several of their friends at Texas A&M University brought it to Missouri-based Greasel Conversions Inc. over spring break to install the system's tanks and filter. They and their friends also joined the company as interns.

Stinson and Corsaut visited Ginny Barnicoat's three environmental science classes at Chesapeake yesterday. The teacher learned about the bus from Corsaut's younger sister, who is enrolled in Barnicoat's Advanced Placement class. The two college juniors showed the bus to nearly 30 of Barnicoat's AP students yesterday afternoon.

Installing the waste oil system cost about $3,500. Along with the cost of the bus and engine repairs, the pair say they have spent about $10,500.

Corsaut and Stinson opened the hood and showed how the filter and oil lines connect to the engine.

Conversion does not change the diesel engine itself. But vegetable oils are too viscous to flow easily through an engine. To combat this, Greasel adjusted the fuel lines so the engine starts using diesel fuel, warming the waste oil until it is thin enough to flow through the engine. Then, with a flip of a switch on the dashboard, it draws from the oil tanks.

Corsaut distinguished this method from "biodiesel" - vegetable oils chemically treated to be thinner. Vegetable oils in general are a renewable resource, Stinson said.

Such oil has the same combustibility as diesel fuel, so it has a similar fuel efficiency - eight to 10 miles a gallon for the school bus. The fuel also reduces emissions by 40 percent to 70 percent, according to Greasel. Petroleum-based fuels also require sulfur additives as lubricants, producing solid particulate wastes, Corsaut said. Vegetable oil fuel serves as its own lubricant. The fuel also is nontoxic.

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