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Bound Not My Friends, There is an Alternative to Petroleum

E-line, Corvallis Environmental Center Newsletter, Winter Solstice 2001

As the cool, moist, air of autumn descends upon the valley, I find my mind stirred with apple cider thoughts, honking Canada geese dreams, and moldy mycological reflections. Yet there is something in the air that keeps distracting me from these noble pursuits; some fragrance, some odor, something familiar yet difficult to place. As I strain my nose, and thus my mind, to know its origin, the source of this wafting putridness becomes, in an instant, effervescently clear: it?s my tailpipe!!

Oh sure, it?s greasy and grimy and smells like a vat of french fries a-frying, but heck it works! It propels me down the road at 60 miles per hour! Yes, it?s true, my truck is fueled by grease, biodiesel more precisely, and there?s a good chance I?m burning grease that cooked your meal at Nearly Normal?s last week. Breath deeply when I pass by?remind you of anything you?ve eaten lately?

Biodiesel is produced by chemically altering vegetable oil via a process known as trans-esterification. It involves the rather graceless union of the two uninspiring chemicals methanol and sodium hydroxide (lye), with the divine, graceful, albeit greasy, vegetable oil (in some circles known as ?waste grease?). Restaurants, you see, are burdened with this ?waste?, often even lending themselves to the blasphemous practice of paying companies to come haul it away. Away. But, alas, we all know, there is no Away.

Pure magic is in the mix. Upon combining the methanol/sodium hydroxide mixture with the veggie oil, and adding some steadfast agitation, the dancing dandelions of faith, the biodiesel weasels, and, most importantly, the willow whispers of miracles spring forth and, having settled out over night, grace be known, biodiesel has been made.

Biodiesel, that clever methyl ester, can be burned in any diesel engine without any modifications. It is extremely clean burning, touting a near 100% reduction in SOx emissions, a 78% reduction in CO2 emissions, and a 50% reduction in CO emissions. It is carbon-neutral, renewable, sustainable, and very, very easy to make. To top it all off, it can be mixed in any proportion with diesel fuel, is very comparable in price, and smells a whole lot better than petrol exhaust. Quickly expanding in girth, largely due to its practicality as an alternative fuel, the biodiesel movement is a timid juggernaut growing like the rampant blackberries on the banks of the Mary?s river.

Here in Corvallis, a group of folks have formed a small biodiesel Co-op, named Grease Works! With 8 current members and daily interest stirring, I suspect Grease Works! will be successful in its rudimentary goal: to disseminate the ideology of appropriate technology so that we may, as naked apes, live peaceful, healthy, and ecologically conscious lives.

Justin Soares

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