When Shawn Antaya of Boulder, Colo., is behind the wheel of his Volkswagen, drivers behind him can't help but hunger for french fries.
Antaya's 1985 Jetta is powered with biodiesel, an organically-produced diesel fuel made from used vegetable oil. The light blue exhaust produced by the alternative fuel smells like something from the deep fryer.
"The exhaust is behind you," Antaya said, laughing. "So everyone behind you gets a sudden craving for (Burger King)."
But fueling others' appetites is not why Antaya tried biodiesel.
Rising fuel prices in conjunction with the exploration of unspoiled places for oil development concerns him. He likes the idea of running his vehicle on renewable, biodegradable energy, spewing fewer toxic chemicals and spurning the oil industry. He wants to raise awareness and start a grassroots effort in Boulder to promote veggie oil as a fuel.
"It's really opened my eyes to people being independent of big oil companies," Antaya said. "You can do this yourself."
Antaya is one of many people across the country producing and using their own biodiesel. A self-sustaining community in northeast Missouri relies solely upon biodiesel for its vehicles, one man in California is using waste fryer oil to make biodiesel for his Datsun diesel pickup, and "french fry trucks" or "canola trucks" have been used in Yellowstone National Park to raise awareness of alternative fuels.
Antaya bought his turbo-diesel Jetta - biodiesel doesn't work in a gasoline engine - one year ago. At the same time, he purchased a guide to using vegetable oil as an alternative fuel and began experimenting with the concoction.
So far, he's collected about 25 gallons of used vegetable oil. He mixes it with a methanol and lye mixture that pulls glycerin out of the veggie oil. The glycerin that settles at the bottom isn't waste - it can be used to make soap.
The honey-colored liquid on top of the glycerin can be poured into a diesel fuel tank.
Aside from engine problems not related to the biodiesel, Antaya said his Jetta - which had 175,000 miles on the odometer when he bought it - runs like a charm.
Antaya said he's put 500 miles on the car since going away from gas.
One drawback to biodiesel is fuel economy.
According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., pure biodiesel will reduce fuel economy and power by 10 percent, so a driver will need 1.1 gallons of biodiesel for every 1 gallon of diesel fuel. But a 20 percent blend of biodiesel and diesel fuel shows almost no change.
Antaya said his biggest problems with his biodiesel is the cold weather. When the temperature drops below 28 degrees, the fuel starts to solidify, and Antaya must mix in diesel fuel before frying, er, firing up the engine.
For more information on biodiesel, e-mail antaya-s(at)hotmail.com, or visit www.veggievan.org, or check out the guide Antaya used - "From the Fryer to the Fuel Tank: The Complete Guide to Using Vegetable Oil as an Alternative Fuel" by Joshua and Kaia Tickell.
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