Veggie Bus

A bus powered by vegetable oil and solar energy stopped in Houston to spread the word about cleaner alternatives to petroleum and also about "leave no trace" outdoor ethics. Houston Public Radio's Ed Mayberry reports.

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The specially-outfitted bus has traveled more than 50,000 miles in 47 states using recycled vegetable oil collected at restaurants along the way. The bus also has a rooftop solar array to power televisions, computers, a stereo and refrigerators for yogurt from tour sponsor Stoneyfield Farm. Curtis Tronolone is with Wyoming-based NOLS, the National Outdoor Leadership School, which put the bus on the road.

"Our school takes students out into these wilderness areas and our classrooms are the wilderness. So we operate in places like for example, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. So you know what we're trying to do is save our classrooms, essentially. The landscape is changing, and it's due to the energy crisis."

Tronolone says the standard diesel bus was converted to run on vegetable oil discarded by restaurants.

"And this here is the engine compartment, and this is our engine. It's a standard 3116 Caterpillar engine. Any diesel engine can be converted to run on vegetable oil, and actually the original diesel engine was invented by a man named Rudolph Diesel, and he invented it to run off peanut oil."

The bus is outfitted with audio-visual equipment, all solar powered by an array of eight panels on the roof of the bus. They hosted students from Houston's Yes! Prep North Central campus on Aldine Westfield. The discarded vegetable oil has to be filtered before it runs through the engine.

"So this is the pump, and this tank is filled with unfiltered vegetable oil. So we go to the restaurants, fill it up, we connect the pump, the pump draws the vegetable oil out of the tank, puts it through these two filters and then sends it down this line, and this line leads to the holding tank." Ed: "Have you found from experience some kinds of oilξare better than others?" "If it's cloudy, that means there's a lot of rendered animal fats in the oil, which is not good for the engine. A large part of fat is water, and water does not combust."

The conversion from diesel to used vegetable oil has already paid for itself.

"The system itself to convert our bus cost a total of about $3,000. With diesel at, you know, that gets up to $3 a gallon at a hundred gallon diesel tank on this bus, the system paid for itself in about ten fuel-ups."

Tronolone says the bus is a chance for the outdoor school teaching environmental ethics to practice what it preaches by demonstrating practical alternative energies. Ed Mayberry, Houston Public Radio News.

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