09/20/04 — 'Chewy': The vegetable-oil-drinking car

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'Chewy': The vegetable-oil-drinking car

By Sam Atkins
Published in News on September 20, 2004 1:57 PM

The smell of French fries coming from a vehicle may seem unusual, but one company is trying to make it more common.

Anna Borofsky, co-owner of Clean Vibes, began using vegetable oil as fuel in her Dodge Ram in December. It's more environmentally friendly than diesel fuel, more cost-efficient with high gas prices, and is readily available.

She gets the leftover oil from restaurants and food vendors.

Vegetable oil truck

News-Argus/Sam Atkins

From left, Anna Borofsky, Brandon Merritt and Leah Konecny with Clean Vibes stopped in Goldsboro to change tires on their vegetable oil truck. River and Ivy Merritt, in front, are traveling with them on their way to a festival in Georgia.

Clean Vibes is based out of New Hampshire and services the trash and recycling bins at music festivals throughout the eastern United States. Its goal is to decrease the amount of trash entering landfills and incinerators by increasing the amount of recyclables collected and delivered to recycling centers, said Ms. Borofsky.

There are food vendors at the events, so it is easy to obtain the oil from them. She gets some strange looks from vendors and restaurant managers when she inquires about using their oil.

"They look at you like you're crazy," she said. "They wonder what in the world you are thinking."

They pump the oil into a 55-gallon drum in the back of the truck, which they named "Chewy." The drum has a filter bag inside, which filters any hard particles out of the oil before it goes into the fuel system.

The key to running a diesel truck on vegetable oil is heat. A custom-made tank and fuel line heats with the hot coolant the engine is already producing. The engine is started and brought up to temperature on regular diesel.

When the engine and tank of vegetable oil is warm, a switch on the dashboard is flipped, switching from diesel to vegetable oil. They switch back to diesel a few minutes before reaching their destination to clear the fuel lines of the oil.

She said it cost about $2,000 to get the system installed. They hope to have it paid off soon and it is worth that price because they rarely have to purchase gas. Using vegetable oil does decrease the vehicle's power, but it is hardly noticeable. She said it is not hard to operate the system once it is installed and the filtration process is very basic.

Ms. Borofsky and Brandon Merritt visited Goldsboro last week on their way to Georgia for a music festival. They and the other Clean Vibes employees work a dozen or so events per year and travel at least 10,000 miles each year, she said.

They stopped at White's Tire Service on Ash Street in Goldsboro to get tires changed because they were concerned about driving through a possible hurricane. Merritt's father owns the tire service company.

Having the new system on larger trucks is pretty uncommon. They use "Chewy" for work on the festival sites and plan to use it to promote alternative energy sources.

"It's such an unknown idea, but so viable," she said.