Alternative car fuels catching on | NevadaAppeal.com

Alternative car fuels catching on

Amanda Fehd
Nevada Appeal News Service

While politicians in Washington, D.C., argued over whether to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge this fall, Mitch Neary of South Shore, Calif., made a small change in a different direction.

Neary bought a 2006 Chevy Silverado truck a few months ago, along with a conversion kit to allow it to run on pure vegetable oil.

“My little truck, it won’t make a big difference in greenhouse gases, but if everyone did it, there would be an impact,” Neary said. His truck will be polluting 85 percent less now, he said.

Diesel engines are more fuel efficient, but regular diesel still spits out sulfur, the cause of acid rain. That sparked California to ban the sale of diesel cars, a ban which will be phased out in 2007. But vegetable oil does not have any sulfur in it.

Auto emissions are also thought to be a huge contributor to Lake Tahoe’s declining clarity. Millions of dollars go to subsidize public transportation here, with public agencies studying closely how to get people out of their cars.

But Neary knew he wouldn’t be riding public transportation anytime soon. As a general contractor, he relies on his truck to haul supplies and get him to work on snowy days.

“My truck was the biggest polluter in my life,” he said.

Now he jokes his truck is a vegetarian. But he says his choice shows that the trend toward alternative fuels is not just for “Volkswagen-schoolbus-driving hippies.”

He is not alone.

The biodiesel industry has grown more than 50-fold in the last six years, according to the National Biodiesel Board.

Northstar-at-Tahoe hosts the only biodiesel-pumping station in Tahoe and uses it’s own french fry oil to power its grooming machines.

And country singer Willie Nelson made New York Times headlines Friday for starting his own biodiesel brand, called BioWillie, citing a loathing for dependence on foreign oil, and hope for the future of the family farmer.

If every car ran on soybean oil, farmers might actually make a profit some day, Neary said.

Nelson sells his namesake fuel at 13 gas stations and truck stops in four states, the Times reported, and it fuels the buses and trucks for Nelson’s tours.

Straight vegetable oil is a close cousin to biodiesel, which is vegetable oil processed with lye and ethanol. While you can pump biodiesel into any diesel engine, vegetable oil requires a heating kit.

Web sites and businesses are popping up throughout the country to help people convert their diesel vehicles to be vegetarian. Greasel.com, Greasecar.com and Grassolean.com are a few. “Sliding Home,” a book by Ray Nolan, explores all aspects of converting a vehicle to vegetable oil, including emissions comparisons and a list of car brands that run on diesel.

Neary’s Chevy consumes 100 percent vegetable oil recycled from South Shore sushi restaurants, which normally pay $60 a month to dispose of their used fryer oil. He’s burned 140 gallons of it, saving $500.

“This is grass-roots recycling at its best. You are taking something that would go into the landfill and you are using it,” Neary said.

In a year, he estimates he’ll save enough in gas money to pay off the $2,400 he spent on the conversion kit.