One of the major renovations we will undertake on Walter (the Bus), in addition to transforming the interior to a double-family, live-work space that must meet Taylor‘s (the Kid) criteria for tolerable spaces, is to convert the engine to run off of waste vegetable oil (WVO). The conversion will allow us to cut back significantly on our carbon dioxide emissions, help us decrease our dependence on oil, and make the world a better smelling place.
An engine that burns WVO will smell like, well, fryer oil, so anyone who has ever worked or eaten at a grease pit knows basically the smell. But as some WVO engine drivers have noted, the smells can be far more diverse, depending on where the driver finds the oil.
Following are a few reactions to the sight and smell of WVO I’ve found online. Any of these lovely scents our bus will emit instead of diesel fuel exhaust.
Environmental Media Northwest said, “The odor is also very pleasant – similar to the smell of barbequing steaks.”
—Environmental Media Northwest
Fern Shen, in her article “Used cooking oil turned into bus fuel,” reports the mixed reactions of four students from Sandy Spring Friends School in Maryland:
“‘Eeeew,’ said Ariel Johnson, 12, as the filtered oil blopped into a white plastic drum. Moyra Schauffler, 11, thought its color was like mango juice. ‘Actually it looks like urine,’ said Maxwell Goodman, 8.
But it smelled pleasant –like corn chips–which is good because that odor might come out of the tailpipe of one of their school buses.”
—The Washington Post, May 31, 2005; reposted on LJWorld.com
Brian Rooney reports for ABC News the following:
“Used cooking oil does produce an exhaust that smells like the restaurant it came from. You can tell Thai and Mexican fuel.
It’s a small disadvantage for something free in a world where oil is nearly $70 a barrel. You almost never have to go to a gas station.
‘Well, I had to use a gas station to put air in my tires last week,’ said another user, Denise Lindsay.
It may seem a little crude. But the point is, it’s not oil. These pioneers of grease-burning cars believe that a source for the alternative to the ever-increasing cost of petroleum fuels is all around us.
And you can get a good lunch there, too.“
—ABC News’ Brian Rooney in Los Angeles originally reported this story for “World News Tonight” on Sept. 18, 2005. Posted October 15, 2005 on ABC News Online
According to Mr. Rooney, the smell of WVO might deter drivers from changing over to veggie power. After all, we‘re taking fryer oil out of context, replacing the much more familiar and expected exhaust from diesel or gasoline with something that evokes hunger, leading to potential problems for, say, traffic and the population’s eating patterns. When drivers are expecting to breathe toxic pollutants–no telling to what effect on our lungs, our skin, our reproductive systems–they instead breathe in the aroma of French fries, fried chicken, or pork fried rice.
Clearly, we could have a crisis on hand if WVO vehicles proliferate. Drivers already have to put up with enticing smells while on the road, those from favorite restaurants or fast-food joints. Especially when making long treks, drivers get easily distracted by the pleasure promised in a Big Mac or even a McDonald’s salad. Now, imagine every car runs off of WVO. You can no longer prepare yourself to ignore the smell of your favorite food cooking out into the open air; you can‘t avoid it by driving a different route. You never know when it‘s going to filter in through your air conditioner, or sweep through your open window up into your nostrils, titillating your senses, making you hungry for food you know is not on your diet. If more people convert their cars to run off of WVO, everyone will have to demonstrate unprecedented self-control to keep themselves from submitting to their gluttonous desires if we have want to stand a chance to thwart the ever-rising obesity rate.
Despite the impending failure of expecting the population to control itself, on a more positive note, increasing WVO conversions could have a great impact on our local and global economies. With more drivers converting their cars to run off of WVO, restaurants would have a vested interested in supplying drivers with fryer oil. Oil from a Mexican restaurant might make all the drivers who smell it stop off for a burrito and some guacamole. Oil from a Chinese food restaurant would make people starve for Pork fried rice or General‘s Chicken. Restaurants might compete for the honor of having the cleanest, most efficient and safest vegetable oil, not only for our bodies, but also for our engines! This renewable resource just might generate an interest among businesses to put pressure on government to explore its potential more rigorously.
I think it could work. If I smell sweet and spicy ginger, chilies, pineapple, and chicken as I‘m riding down the road, I just might stop off for my favorite Thai dish. I‘d have to give in at some point. Wouldn’t you?