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Alternative future with alternative fuel

OSU student takes break from studies to promote fuel efficiency, battle disease


By Brenna DohenyBarometer Staff Writer

Editor's Note: This is the first of a three-part series
focusing on alternative fuel sources.

Like many college students, Justin Soares spent a good deal of
his classroom time gazing out the windows and daydreaming. His
mind's wandering happened to be a bit more ambitious than the usual
college fantasies of parties and co-eds, however, and led him to
start his own alternative fuel cooperative.


Justin Soares, a former OSU wildlife biology major, pumps biodiesel into a drum in a customer's garage.

Justin Runquist
Barometer Staff Photographer

The former OSU wildlife biology major was preoccupied with
thoughts of his car, a gas-guzzling 1980 Volkswagen van -- which
averaged only seventeen miles per gallon.

"It definitely went against my values to drive it," said Soares,
who continued saying he leads an environmentally-conscious
lifestyle to "leave a smaller footprint on the earth."

Soares decided to find an alternative fuel for his van, and
searched the internet for options.

He first considered propane, which has lower emissions than
gasoline, but only half the energy. When he learned about
biodiesel, he said "it blew my mind at first."

He read a book about biodiesel, "From Fryer to Fuel Tank" by
Joshua Tickell, and in June 2000 began experimenting with his
kitchen blender to make his own fuel.

Biodiesel is a mixture of standard diesel fuel and vegetable oil
that has undergone a chemical reaction with alcohol, a process
called transesterification, which converts the oil to an ester form
that can be used as fuel. A 1996 University of California at Davis
study in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy found that
biodiesel produces over 90 percent less carcinogenic exhaust
emissions than regular diesel fuel.

The carbon released in biodiesel combustion is also less harmful
to the environment because it remains part of the carbon cycle. In
other words, the carbon burned in the fuel comes from plants and
can be re-used by other plants, instead of entering the
atmosphere.

"It's a closed loop," Soares said, "rather than mining petroleum
from the center of the earth that is released into the
atmosphere."

Biodiesel is also a great lubricant, which is beneficial to
engines as well as the environment. Normal diesel fuel requires the
addition of sulfur to keep the engine lubricated, which, in turn,
causes the emission of sulfur dioxide, a gas that contributes to
acid rain. Using biodiesel cuts out the sulfur dioxide emissions
and makes engines last longer, Soares said. Any diesel engine can
burn biodiesel without need for modification.

In addition to being less harmful than petroleum fuels,
biodiesel is more energy efficient. As Soares explained, for every
unit of energy used to make regular diesel fuel, only 0.83 units of
energy are produced. For every unit of energy used to make
biodiesel, 3.2 units of energy are produced.

"It has the most positive life cycle balance of any alternative
fuel," Soares said.

Soares said using biodiesel is also a great way to recycle
waste, as any vegetable oil -- new or used -- can be turned into
fuel. Soares began making his fuel by soliciting donations of used
vegetable oil from local restaurants. A few of his friends were
interested in his backyard fuel experiments, and the operation was
moved to a friend's farm, where fuel could be produced on a larger
scale.

"It was like the ideal dream, to have a decentralized power
supply," Soares said.

The arrangement grew into the biodiesel cooperative known today
as Grease Works!, which began in September 2001. Interest in
biodiesel and membership in the co-op grew so much along the way
that the farmyard production couldn't keep up with demand, so
Grease Works! now purchases fuel from SeQuential Biofuels in
Eugene.

"Producing (biodiesel) ourselves became prohibitive to volume,
and we didn't want to be prohibitive to volume," Soares explained.
"One of our guiding principles was to just get this out there, one
fuel tank at a time, to make a change here in Corvallis."

Grease Works! functions as a biodiesel distributor now,
supplying fuel to its 28 members at $2.75 per gallon, and to
non-members at $3.25 per gallon. Membership in the cooperative
requires a $75 annual fee.

The fuel used by the co-op is a blend known as B100, which is
100 percent pure biodiesel, made from soybean oil grown in the
Midwest. The most economical and popular blend of biodiesel, B20,
is 20 percent biodiesel, 80 percent regular diesel.

All members of the Grease Works! co-op participate in meetings
and community outreach events. Soares does the delivery work for
the co-op and runs the office end of the business maintaining the
website, telephone and e-mail correspondence. There are no paid
employees, so Soares said overhead is low.

"Basically we make just enough money to break even every month,"
Soares said. The co-op voted to pay Soares a small stipend every
month for his efforts, which he rarely accepts. He gets by
financially running his own business fixing up old diesel cars.

With 20 credits left to graduate, Soares abandoned his studies
at OSU to make his dream of promoting biodiesel a reality. He said
his life experiences have taught him that he made the right
decision. In August of 2001, he was diagnosed with multiple
sclerosis (MS), an autoimmune disorder affecting the central
nervous system.

This degenerative disease eats away at the protective tissue
called myelin which surrounds the optic nerves, brain and spinal
cord. The nervous system's ability to conduct electric impulses is
impaired, causing the various symptoms of MS such as fatigue,
vision problems and loss of cognitive function. While some
pharmaceutical therapies exist to ease the symptoms of MS, there is
as yet no cure.

Prior to his diagnosis, Soares enjoyed the sport of
ultra-running, which involves running distances that exceed a
marathon in length and cover rough, hilly terrain. Soares competed
in several events, including the 100-mile Angels Crest trail run in
California, until he began experiencing the extreme fatigue and
blurred vision that heralded the onset of MS.

"I just couldn't run anymore," Soares said. "That really changed
my life, and in a lot of ways, changed it for the better, because
it caused me to live more in the moment, for each day." Soars urges
others to follow their own dreams.

"It's so important for students to realize that if they're
sitting in class staring out the window and dreaming about
something that is pure at its core ... then do it!" Soares said.
"Leave the classroom, don't sit there, don't waste your time,
life's too short for that."

Maybe a B.S. in Wildlife Biology is still in the future for
Justin Soares, but "for right now, what's more important is that
I'm living my dream," he said.

For more information, visit www.greaseworks.org.

Brenna Doheny covers campus news for The Daily Barometer.
She can be reached at 737-2232 or at baro.campus@studentmedia.orst.edu

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