Couple’s meaty truck eats its veggies
July 7, 2005
Holland and Luna Duell are hoping to score handouts from restaurants while hanging out in the valley this month – but they’re seeking used cooking oil rather than free food.The Duells converted their vehicle from one that burns standard diesel fuel to one that burns vegetable oil the vast majority of the time. But the young, environmentally hip couple don’t drive an old VW micro-bus that putts along. They’ve got themselves a Ford F-350 pickup with a crew cab that’s often pulling the trailer they call home.”It’s a big, powerful truck. People usually think of a deprived and puny vehicle when they think of something that runs on alternative fuel,” Holland said. “You could run an army on vegetable oil if you wanted to.”The Duells want to promote renewable energy, so they realized it would take an eye-catching vehicle to capture attention. They bought the 2002 Ford pickup on Earth Day this year and soon retrofitted it. The necessary kits cost between $1,000 and $4,000, depending on individuals choices.Once converted, it can safely run almost exclusively on used cooking oil. The same oil that deep-fried your egg rolls or french fries at your favorite local restaurant yesterday might be whisking the Duells around the valley today.
Just to make sure people get the message, both side windows on their topper say, “This truck is powered by vegetable oil!””It’s really interesting driving by people. You can see them pointing and talking about it,” Luna said.They’ve had people on two-lane roads pull them over to ask questions. When the truck was parked at a recent Aspen Music Festival performance, another concert-goer used a ticket stub to write the message, “Hooray for veg oil!”Their two dogs often lick the fuel tanks when they are riding in the back of the truck. And you know you’re doing something right when the fuel that’s powering your truck can also be dripped on top of the dog’s food.The Duells have asked several midvalley restaurants for their oil dregs and received enthusiastic support.
Mike Mercatoris, co-owner of Zheng’s Pan Asian Bistro, a popular El Jebel eatery, said his restaurant will gladly contribute its used oil to the Duells. He had seen TV shows about such vehicles, but it was still a surprise to have a couple pop in and ask if they could use the grease for their monster pickup.Zheng’s will contribute about seven gallons per week. “It’s nice to be able to recycle in that way,” Mercatoris said.Holland places the oil he collects into drums and other large containers that are allowed to heat in the sun. The food scraps sink to the bottom and are avoided. He takes a sample from each container to make sure it’s of good quality. Cooking oil that has the clearish, caramel color of unused motor oil is good; cloudy liquid like apple cider is bad. Filters are used in addition to an engine’s standard fuel filter. Holland said he’s never had a problem with clogging.A small pump in the back of his veggiemobile transfers the oil from containers to a 100-gallon tank in the truck bed. A fuel line connects it to the engine. When the truck warms up, the Duells flick a switch, which closes the standard fuel tank and opens the cooking oil tank. They also switch back to the standard when shutting the truck off.The Duells run 100 percent biodiesel in their regular tank almost exclusively. Usually it can be purchased only at a 20 percent mixture. They make their own pure biodiesel in a process (called home brewing) they said isn’t all that difficult. Holland said it isn’t practical for all vehicle owners to do what they do, because of the time commitment, but vegetable oil could be used in industrial applications.
They got interested in the alternative fuel while attending a Bioneers Conference in Marin County, Calif., a couple of years ago. Using cooking oil doesn’t improve mileage but it reduces carbon emissions. Statistics were difficult to come by on the Internet.The really big deal to the Duells is it’s a renewable resource produced by American farmers, the ultimate way to end dependence on foreign oil.They recently came to the Roaring Fork Valley, where they are visiting Holland’s mom, Carolyn. They made the trip from South Carolina on 34 gallons of 100 percent biodiesel and 166 gallons of cooking oil used by restaurants.They will soon leave to visit Luna’s parents in the northeast corner of Washington, make their way down to Mexico and work out of there for awhile – relying, hopefully, on oil handouts from tortilla factories.”We’re going from border to border and coast to coast without petroleum products,” Holland said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org