The Grease Trip

Meet Josh Marcus: writer, adventurer, and, recently, fry-oil
connoisseur. In spring, Marcus converted an ’84 diesel Benz to run
on waste grease from restaurants and took it on the road in the
Pacific Northwest — an experience he recounts in
The San
Francisco Bay Guardian
. That may sound like a daunting
task for all but the most adept mechanics, but a bevy of catalogs
and how-to guides has mushroomed all over the internet to walk the
rest of us through the process.

Biofuel, once the closet obsession of ecologically conscious
tech-heads, has transformed almost overnight into a cottage
industry. DIY weekenders can now abandon plans to re-tile the
kitchen and instead turn a diesel car into a machine that burns up
calories, not the planet, thanks to online companies like
PlantDrive. The site
offers conversion kits, parts, consultation, and complete
installation services for the easily frustrated. The home page
quotes a rather famous expert in the biofuels field: ‘The use of
vegetable oils for engine fuels may seem insignificant today. But
such oils may become in course of time as important as petroleum
and the coal tar products of the present time.’ Ralph Nader, 1999?
Nope — Rudolph Diesel, 1911. That’s right — the inventor of the
diesel engine originally intended for them to run on veggie oil,
not the petroleum-derived fuel currently used in trucks, cars, and

PlantDrive and similar web-based companies like
Greasecar and
Journey to
sell conversion kits for cars to run on straight
vegetable oil (SVO) rather than biodiesel, which is manufactured
through a difficult, almost alchemical process involving toxic
solvents. SVO engines are a little more straightforward — one kit
can set you back about a thousand clams (not the golden-fried
variety), but the fuel is widely available and cheaper than
gasoline (as low as 44 cents a gallon, according to
Though there is some controversy in the biodiesel vs. SVO debate in
terms of engine performance and longevity, succinctly outlined on
the Journey to Forever site, a big plus for SVO is that you can
refuel almost anywhere. Which brings us back to Josh Marcus and his
companions and their road trip through Oregon and Washington State.
Along the way, they refueled with waste oil requisitioned from
local restaurants — encountering befuddled reactions from people
who thought putting fryer grease into a car was crazy. (Of course,
when you think about it, fueling cars with decayed dinosaur is even
weirder…) Marcus’ odyssey suggests that all it will take to
grease the wheels of social change and convert our car culture to a
sustainable one is more exposure to this emerging technology — and
for Marcus and other like-minded pioneers, that means taking a lot
more road trips.

Go there >>
Being There:
Veggie Road Trip

Related Links:

Related Links from the Utne

Comments? Story tips?
Write a letter to the editor

Like this? Want more?Subscribe to Utne

In-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.