Monday, August 11, 2008

Leaving from the Rhode Island State House

Oklahoma City

After a lot of driving and some shopping for our new outfits at the Farm Goods store we are now on the outskirts of Oklahoma City and have checked into the Days Inn.

Tomorrow we'll be heading to Texas!

Wylie in the Big Rig

Oklahoma Truck Stop

Biodiesel Cowboys in Missouri

Gateway to the West St. Louis Arch

Project Background and Sunrise in St. Louis!

Ponaganset High School

Coast to Coast Biodiesel Pickup Project

About our project:

We are driving a pickup truck 3,000 miles from Rhode Island to California using only biodiesel fuel. We are also driving the entire way to California without refueling, using only the biodiesel we have on board our pickup.

Who we are:

We are all members of the Ponaganset High School Alternative Energy Team. Ponaganset High School is a somewhat rural public school located in the Northwest corner of Rhode Island and is attended by approximately 1,000 students.

On the road with this project are science teacher Mr. Ross McCurdy (me) and three Ponaganset students, all from the town of Foster: Zane Lewis, Wylie Smith, and Seth Keighley

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 New York to Paris. In 1927 Lindbergh flew his single engine monoplane across the Atlantic alone and without a radio. This was an amazing achievement for the time and many people considered such a flight to be impossible. One of the reasons Lindbergh went on the pioneering flight was to promote aviation, and he was greatly successful; after his flight the number of letters sent by air mail doubled!

Inspiration also came from Cal Rogers, who back in 1911 became the first person to fly across the United States, and Clessie Cummins, who promoted his diesel engine with a cross-country road trip.

From the achievements of these 20th century pioneers came the idea to demonstrate and promote renewable energy by driving Coast to Coast across the United States using biodiesel fuel, and making this trip without refueling. The type of vehicle required to safely carry four passengers and the fuel needed for the trip is the classic American pickup truck, equipped with a diesel engine of course. The majority of privately owned diesel vehicles are pickup trucks. We hope that our Coast to Coast road trip will demonstrate the viability of biodiesel, and hopefully encourage more people to use this American made, renewable fuel.

This is also a great way for students to learn about Biodiesel from firsthand experience!

About Biodiesel:

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 Rhode Island.

Newport Biodiesel’s fuel can be purchased at the pump from TH Malloy in Cumberland, Rhode Island. TH Malloy sells biodiesel blends from B20 (20% biodiesel mixed with 80% petroleum diesel) to B100. The B100 is actually B99.9% since there is some legal requirement to mix in just a splash of petroleum diesel for reasons I am not sure of. This is the biodiesel that we are using for our trip.

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 United States, biodiesel is grown and made in the U.S., which is much better than buying it from places thousands of miles away from countries that may not particularly like us.

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 New York City area utility truck for Con Edison. A big advocate of energy conservation and renewable energy, Con Edison Solutions generously donated the pickup to Ponaganset High School to support this project. The essential component for our Biodiesel Pickup Project was of course the pickup, and we needed one donated, a dependable truck that we could count on to get us safely and reliably across the country and back. The major turning point for this project was when Con Edison Solutions came through for us with a low mileage, mechanically excellent and well-maintained diesel pickup. As with ConEd’s other diesel fleet vehicles, our pickup was also already using biodiesel, a B20 blend.

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 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 Rhode Island landmark was a great place to start the trip and it was a beautiful summer morning. In keeping with the Coast to Coast ideal we took the long way out of Rhode Island and stopped at a small beach near URI’s Bay Campus to wet the tires with some East Coast Narragansett Bay salt water.


Los Angeles, California. More specifically, Surfrider State Beach on Pacific Coast Highway 1 in Malibu.

Why Malibu? On another high school trip some students and I had visited Surfrider State Beach back in 2004 when our fuel cell-powered rock and roll band, Protium, performed at the National Hydrogen Association Conference in Hollywood. The Ponaganset High students in Protium (they were all 16 years old at the time and also played in RI as Orange Jam Conspiracy) put on a great show under the evening sky of Hollywood. Among the interesting people we met was Perry Farrel, lead singer for Jane’s Addiction and Lollapalooza founder, who came by to check out the hydrogen fuel cell-powered sounds.

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 Malibu. We had a great time and took some memorable photos in the sun, sand, and waves of Surfrider Beach, so it seemed to be an ideal West Coast destination for our Biodiesel Pickup Project.

Where we are now:

As of 2:00 AM Monday morning we were about two hours East of the Mississippi, heading to St. Louis, Missouri. We’ve traveled through seven states and driven over a thousand miles, about a third of the way from Los Angeles. We hope to send some photos out along with travel updates soon.

6:00 AM Monday Update: Sunrise in St. Louis

We arrived on the East side of the mighty Mississippi river, right across from the gigantic St. Louis Gateway Arch, the symbolic gateway to the West, before daybreak. Nicely positioned on an almost completed pedestrian rampway for the view we were able to get some great photos of our Biodiesel Pickup and the gleaming 630’ stainless steel Arch as the sun rose. The nation’s tallest monument, this was a spectacular sight and one of the best known landmarks of the Midwest.

We are now heading West on route 44 towards Springfield, Missouri and Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Our Sponsors:

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.

AAA Southern New England: AAAsne donated funding for our project and provided excellent support with maps, Triptik route, etc.

TH Malloy, Cumberland, RI: supplies biodiesel and biodiesel blends at the pump and donated 100 gallons of biodiesel for our trip.

Newport Biodiesel, RI: commercially produces biodiesel from used cooking oil and donated another 100 gallons of biodiesel for our trip.

Tanury PVD, Lincoln, RI: The PVD stands for physical vapor deposition, the process that they use for the coolest plating that anyone has ever seen. Tanury PVD put their titanium oxide Aurora finish on our American Racing chrome rims and some other chrome parts on our pickup. Their Aurora finish has this amazing purple-green-gold finish that seems to be continuously shifting. These are some seriously cool wheels!

Chemart, RI: created some cool “Biodiesel” badges in stainless steel for our pickup that we also had Aurora-plated. We may keep one to wear as “Biodiesel Bling” jewelry.

Sgambato Service Inc, North Providence, RI: The folks at Sgambato’s Service have been helping out with our AltEnergy vehicle projects for years including inspections, oil changes, wheel mounting, alignment, repairs etc.

Hall’s Garage, Scituate, RI: donated a pickup bed and bumper for our pickup to replace the pickup bed with the heavy duty (and just plain heavy) lift gate that came with the truck.

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

Ponaganset High School Principal Dennis Kafalas

Superintendent Dr. Michael Barnes

Foster-Glocester Regional School District (Ponaganset) School Committee members

Ponaganset Building Supervisor Joe McGovern

The Enthusiast, Johnston, RI

Town Fair Tire, North Providence, RI

Bob Cerio, Biodiesel Expert with Hudson Fuels

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 website.