Coast to Coast Biodiesel Pickup Project
About our project:
We are driving a pickup truck 3,000 miles from
Who we are:
We are all members of the Ponaganset High School Alternative Energy Team.
On the road with this project are science teacher Mr. Ross McCurdy (me) and three Ponaganset students, all from the town of
Why we are doing this:
We believe. We believe in the importance of renewable energy and want to do everything we can to promote the use of renewable energy through education, demonstration, and application. Inspiration for this trip came from Charles Lindbergh, who at the age of 25 was the first person to fly from
Inspiration also came from Cal Rogers, who back in 1911 became the first person to fly across the
From the achievements of these 20th century pioneers came the idea to demonstrate and promote renewable energy by driving Coast to Coast across the
This is also a great way for students to learn about Biodiesel from firsthand experience!
Biodiesel is typically produced from plant oils such as corn, soybean, canola etc. and can be produced from fresh plant oils or from used cooking oils from restaurants such as fast food, Chinese, etc. Using the magic of chemistry, the oils undergo a chemical change called transesterification that removes the glycerin and thins it out so it has a lower viscosity and flows pretty much like regular petroleum diesel. There are a few big words here but it isn’t rocket science. The basic chemicals needed to make biodiesel are Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH, aka Drano) or Potassium Hydroxide, and methanol, which is used as go-kart fuel. It isn’t unusual for people to make home brewed biodiesel in their garage. A heads-up warning, KOH and NaOH are both caustic, which means they will burn things like skin and eyeballs (that is how Drano unclogs drains) and methanol is flammable and poisonous. Methanol is a different type of alcohol than the Ethanol found in beer, wine, and used in flex fuel vehicles. If ingested methanol can cause permanent blindness and death, so don’t drink it and don’t smoke while making biodiesel or working with any type of fuel. It is also good advice to not smoke at all ever, since it is really bad for the health all by itself.
The biodiesel we are using for our trip was made from used cooking oil and made by Newport Biodiesel’s commercial production facility in
Newport Biodiesel’s fuel can be purchased at the pump from TH Malloy in
It was Dr. Rudolf Diesel who invented the diesel engine and information that can be easily found on the web is fascinating. While biodiesel itself is a few decades old; Biofuels are nothing new. Dr. Diesel demonstrated his new engine at the 1900 Paris World Fair by running it on peanut oil! His engine was designed to run on vegetable oils; it was only later that petroleum diesel fuel came into use.
The benefits of biodiesel are numerous. One of the biggest advantages of biodiesel is that it is a renewable fuel. Biodiesel can be made from plant oils, algae oils, and even turkey and other animal by-products (this sounds a bit gross and doesn’t seem to have the appeal of something like soybean or other plant oils, but something has to be done with this stuff and it might as well be fuel). There is currently a lot of controversy about Biofuels such as biodiesel and ethanol using feedstock that would otherwise be food on people’s plates. This is the beauty of biodiesel recycled from used cooking oil; unless folks are feeding the kids old French fry grease this source certainly isn’t taking food from anyone.
Another advantage is less pollution. Biodiesel produces less particulate matter, that’s the black soot that sometimes pours out of truck exhaust pipes looking like coal-fired power plants in Victorian England. There is also virtually no sulfur in biodiesel. Sulfur in engine exhaust combines with oxygen in the air to produces sulfur oxides (SOx) which in turn produce acid rain, which not only causes all sorts of really bad environmental problems but can also damage things like automobile paint, quite an irony.
Unlike the majority of gasoline and diesel fuel used in the
One of the hazards of transporting oil by giant tanker ships thousands of miles across oceans is that they sometimes run into things such as rocks or bad weather, resulting in very nasty oil spills. Biodiesel is relatively benign and biodegrades; spilling the stuff is essentially the same as spilling vegetable oil. It is safe to say we will probably never see news clips of people scraping biodiesel off of seal pups and limping birds along some ravaged coastline.
Biodiesel Pickup Background and Specifications:
Our Biodiesel Pickup began its career as a
Our Biodiesel Pickup is a 1997 GMC K3500 fuel injected, automatic transmission, 6.5L turbo-diesel with a six passenger, four door crew cab, an 8 foot pickup bed, and four wheel drive. When we received our pickup it had only 64,000 miles on it; for a diesel engine that is barely broken in! Aside from some super-cool wheels the truck is completely stock. This is one of the great things about biodiesel; it is the easiest alternative fuel to use. As long as the vehicle has a diesel engine all a person has to do to use it is pull up to a biodiesel pump and fill it up just like regular fuel, no modifications necessary. A quick search on the internet using www.biodiesel.org or other websites can help you find biodiesel in your area. Good news, across the country there are more and more biodiesel pumps becoming available.
Beginning our Journey:
We began this trip at the Rhode Island State House, 9:30 AM on Saturday morning August 9th 2008 with a great send off from family, friends, and media people. This
After we finished packing all the band gear we had a free day and a minivan, so we set out for the coast and found our way to the beach in
Where we are now:
As of 2:00 AM Monday morning we were about two hours East of the
6:00 AM Monday Update:
We arrived on the East side of the mighty
We are now heading West on route 44 towards
It is the vision, dedication, and support of our sponsors that has made our
Coast to Coast Biodiesel Pickup Project possible.
The event that initiated the entire project was a grant from the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources that Julie Capobianco (with the RI Energy Office, Thanks Julie!) helped us to get. This grant provided us the means to begin the project and work on getting the resources needed to make it happen.
The second major event was the donation of our awesome pickup by Con Edison Solutions. With these two major project milestones it was time to get things rolling!
Delta Consolidated: Delta helped us out with the lightweight aluminum auxiliary fuel tanks and supplies needed to get us Coast to Coast without refueling.
Newport Biodiesel, RI: commercially produces biodiesel from used cooking oil and donated another 100 gallons of biodiesel for our trip.
Sgambato Service Inc,
Greeneville Collision RRF: prepped and painted the pickup bed a gleaming gloss white to match the rest of our pickup; what a difference!
Amsoil: The original synthetic oil company; supplied us with enough synthetic oils for everything on our pickup, along with some cool shirts and hats. The students on the trip have been wearing them and folks along the way ask if they are with a race car crew, which the students really enjoy.
We want to thank the people from Con Edison Solutions, news stations NBC Ch 10,
CBS Ch 12, The Providence Journal, The Valley Breeze, and all our friends and family who gave us a great sendoff!
We also want to thank the may people who have helped with this project including:
RI State Police
Superintendent Dr. Michael Barnes
Town Fair Tire,
Bob Cerio, Biodiesel Expert with
Our other AltEnergy Projects:
These include Protium, our fuel cell-powered rock and roll band, and our Fuel Cell Model T project. Photos, news clips, and music downloads can be found on our www.protium.us website.