by Blair Goldstein
June 24, 2005
It's a simple recipe: Mix 10 gallons of vegetable oil with 10 gallons of
Bobby Tabor has been feeding the unusual mixture to his 1987 cream-colored
Mercedes Benz for almost a week. It fuels his car on the 60-mile commute
between his home in Appomattox and his car technician job at MB Euro
Service on Boonsboro Road in Lynchburg.
There's just one problem, though - the smell.
"I don't notice any difference in the power or performance of the
car," Tabor said. "You do get an odor out of the tailpipe, and it
smells just like it does outside of a McDonald's. It's that charcoaled
Mark Barker, owner of MB Euro Service, said he didn't know about Bob's
experiment when he pulled into work Monday, but he smelled the change.
"When Bobby comes to work we all get hungry," Barker said. "We have
to make a breakfast run."
Tabor said he has been talking to his brother, who works in the heating
and air conditioning business, for almost five years about powering a car
with vegetable oil. About three weeks ago, they started their experiment.
They get used vegetable oil for free from friends working at local
restaurants. Tabor said the free oil is the only way it is economical for
him to use vegetable oil in his car.
"You're looking at spending $20 to $25 a week (on fuel) instead of $40
to $45," Tabor said. "You put $20 in your pocket."
Vegetable oil can only be used as fuel in some diesel engines. However,
Tabor said he did not have to modify his car at all. In fact, Tabor said
his car would run on pure vegetable oil, as long as the temperature of the
liquid remains above 160 degrees. The high temperature keeps the liquid
thin and ensures that the oil will not congeal. Tabor said he keeps his
fuel thin by diluting the vegetable oil with diesel fuel.
While it is unusual for a car to be driving the highway on vegetable oil,
it is part of a growing product line of biofuels. Biofuels are fuels made
from recently living organisms such as potatoes, sugar cane and wheat. In
an effort to encourage the production of alternative fuels, Congress is
considering a bill that would extend tax incentives for the production of
biodiesel, a fuel made largely from soybeans. The Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality estimates that there are about 15 biodiesel
suppliers in the state that serve the more than 500 commercial fleets
nationwide that use biodiesel.
Environmental and economic concerns top the reasons people are turning to
biofuel. While Tabor said he thinks about both, his curiosity is the
primary reason he experiments with vegetable oil.
"The car that I'm driving has 451,000 miles on it," Tabor said.
"It probably rides better than some of the other cars on the road."
"That intellectual torpor maybe sufficient to earn a job at some disaster
prone part of the world like Chernobyl or NASA, but it won't cut the mustard
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