High in fat, low in emissions

The next time you’re sittin’ in a restaurant enjoying some French fries, try to fight off any nutritional guilt trip with which your mind might try to assault you. Instead, take a different, more positive approach: that, by eating those fries, you’re playing a small but essential role in the next revolution in modern transportation.

I went up to the University of Nevada, Reno for an environmental showcase on a Saturday in April and was there especially for the solar update. It was the biodiesel presentation, though, that resonated. I really wasn’t all that familiar with the story of biodiesel, and I probably wasn’t the only one in the room that day thinking that biodiesel is interesting and promising but a few years away from making any real impact. I found out quickly that such thinking was stuck in the slow lane.

Here are some of the memorable points made by Rudi Wiedemann, the president of a Fremont, Calif., company called Biodiesel Solutions:

(1) Biodiesel can be easily made using the old cooking oil discarded by restaurants every day. (2) This biodiesel fuel can be used by any diesel engine currently in operation, whether it’s in a car, a truck, a tractor or a generator. (3) No modifications are necessary in order for a petro-diesel engine to run on biodiesel. (4) You can alternate biodiesel with regular petro-diesel without damaging your engine. (5) With a steady supply of used cooking oil, you can make your own biodiesel in your garage or backyard shed for about 70 cents a gallon. (6) Even a monstrous SUV like a Hummer is a greener vehicle, in terms of emissions, than your standard Honda Civic or Geo Metro, if it’s burning biodiesel. (7) This stuff is not applicable to 2020 or 2010; it’s happening right now.

Well. This biodiesel thing was beginning to sound like a serious response to that great, current American question: How do we honestly reduce our OPEC jones, that pesky, geo-political Achilles heel of ours, and still have enough energy for our cars, trucks, boats, golf carts, dirt bikes, ATVs, OHVs, lawn mowers and weed-wackers?

If you want to get in on the ground floor of the biodiesel movement, it’s affordably do-able, especially if you’re talking about a neighborhood co-op style arrangement. Figure on three to four thousand bucks to set up everything you need for your “Bio-Chevron” shed to make 40 gallons of usable fuel every two days. Once you get the gear, all you need is a steady supply of uncontaminated, used cooking oil and you’re ready to be a cog in the coming grass-roots, paradigm-shifting revolution in human mobility.

Except that, well, the sands upon which this great paradigm shift will take place are shifting a bit, even as you read this. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. I’ll explain next week. In the meantime, a Google of “biodiesel fuel” will yield plenty of reading material, should you be intrigued to investigate.