April 28, 2005

Veggie Oil Fueled Bus Visits Cornell

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Students passing by Bartels Hall yesterday may have noticed in the parking lot the imposing presence of a funny-looking bus with a rock climbing wall on its side. The bus, sponsored by the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) and currently on nationwide publicity tour, runs almost entirely on recycled vegetable oil.

The bus, which has seen 32 states during the last 10 months, was built to educate as many people as possible about the powers of renewable energy and the mission of the school that sponsored it. Ashley Lewis, the marketing representative of the bus’s four person crew, led passersby on tours of the bus and answered questions about the group’s efforts all afternoon long.

The bus itself runs on a regular Caterpillar diesel engine found in any regular bus, but it has a separate 90 gallon tank for vegetable oil. The bus uses diesel fuel to start up, then switches over to veggie power once the temperature passes 115 degrees. From then on, the bus “gets about eight miles per gallon,” approximately the same amount of diesel it would burn otherwise.

The “fuel” is collected for free from the grease bins of dining halls and restaurants around the country, who are more than happy to have their congealed fat carted away. Once collected, the grease must be warmed until it becomes liquid again, then run through a filtration system to remove impurities. Before the bus was equipped with its solar-powered filter, the messy operation had to be done by hand on the side of the road by running the oil through “filtration socks” that look like oven mitts made out of cheese cloth.

Besides protecting the engine’s life and expelling exhaust the smells faintly like french fries and Chinese food, vegetable oil is much more eco-friendly than the petroleum alternative. The school’s website, www.nols.edu, boasts a “100% reduction in acid rain-causing sulfur dioxide, a 78% reduction in the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, and an 80% reduction in asthma-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

The NOLS, based out of Lander, Wyoming, is sponsoring the trek. Boasting 40 years of service, 75,000 graduates, and eleven locations worldwide, the school takes enrollees on wilderness treks from anywhere from a couple weeks to a whole semester to gain an appreciation for nature. According to Matthew Copeland, the bus’s marketing supervisor, the goal is to “teach technical outdoor skills, leadership, and environmental ethics.”

The school has taken everyone from Naval Academy graduates to NASA astronauts on trips including kayaking, sailing, mountain climbing, and hiking in remote areas across the globe. Besides building leadership and teamwork, participants “learn about nature to pass their knowledge on to others” and gain an appreciation of the environment.

One of the people who visited the bus on display was Jennie Pronto ’07 of Glens Falls, N.Y. Jennie had purchased a “green” 1983 Mercedes in Ithaca and converted it into a vegetable oil hybrid, a process States says “is really easy to do for anyone with a diesel engine. All you need is a separate gas tank.”

The trend for these types of cars has grown tremendously, its followers a close knit group of ecologically conscious consumers. States is quick to point out that vegetable oil cars “are not ‘THE answer’ to the world’s environmental problems, but it brings us one step closer.” She says that more we take advantage of small fixes like hydroelectric, wind, and solar power, the more of a real impact we can have on making the world a better place.

Archived article by Steven Nelson
Sun Staff Contributor