Today, I would like to present to you Le Petit Beurre, Little Butter, the inspiration for the title of this blog. You see, not only is this body powered by plants, my car is too. Most of the time.
Le Petit Beurre is our 1982 Diesel Mercedes that runs on vegetable oil. That's right, vegetable oil. And yes, she smells like french fries, unless she's busy smelling like wontons, because we run her on used vegetable oil. Dirty old, used up, thrown out, unwanted vegetable oil, commonly called WVO for "waste vegetable oil," powers our car. Free fuel. Free from conflict, free from supporting big oil, half the emissions. I can't begin to tell you how much that turns me on.
A couple of friends have been curious to know how it works, so I'll try to give you a brief explanation. I'm no expert. Most of my information comes from wikipedia and my friend Koren, so hopefully he'll approve of what I write here. If he doesn't, I trust he'll correct or elaborate in the comments section.
The very first diesel engine, designed by Mr. Rudolph Diesel himself, ran on peanut oil. That was in 1892. We've known how to run engines on vegetable oil - a renewable resource - since the invention of the diesel engine in 1892. If that fact doesn't make your head spin, or at least make your wheels turn about how this nation operates, I don't know what will. (Insert number of lives lost in oil wars here.)
I find that to be astonishing. So the first diesel engines were designed to run on vegetable oil, and while that was well over 100 years ago, the technology hasn't changed that much (imagine what they might be like if we had invested some of our oil war cash in research and development of the veggie car). Old Mercedes and Volkswagen diesels are notorious for being good grease cars. If you have one, start doing your research.
The Mercedes-Benz w123 diesel, manufactured from 1976 to 1985, runs like a champ when you pour veggie oil in the tank. In summer months, when it's nice and warm outside and there's no chance of frost, it can go straight into the tank without any modifications necessary. You just have to make sure the oil is clean - no french fry chunks or water. We get our oil from a chef at a local restaurant. He changes his fry oil weekly, doesn't contaminate it with water or cleaners, hands it over in a five gallon bucket, and is easily kept happy with a batch of baked goods here and there. We love him.
We then strain the oil through a pair of jeans in the basement of our apartment building, and it's ready to go into the car.
|Gotta love that flesh tone color - no time wasted wandering parking lots searching for you car.|
This website, KTM Auto in Plymouth, New Hampshire, shows a diagram of how it works. He also gives a parts list so that you can put together a kit yourself, rather than buy one already assembled. Here's a little flow chart:
Did I mention that it gives off 48% less carbon emissions?
There's a great article about a wave of these cars infiltrating Eugene, Oregon in 2008 on The Truth About Cars. He says:
"What more can be said about the absolute integrity of these cars, in terms of their material and build quality? All the superlatives have long become cliches. Their heavy dull steering; seats as hard as a wooden pew but yet comfortable; their jerky-herky transmissions; the suspensions that drink up pot-holes as if they were a tonic for eternal youth. And of course that reassuring throb of the engine, a device more akin to a perpetual motion machine than a mere mortal internal combustion engine..."
Still, I love it. I love what it represents. I love that it's a little dirty. The cleanliness at the pump is a false cleanliness. Maybe I don't get my hands dirty, but there's blood in that oil. Our insatiable hunger for a resource that is being exhausted costs lives, human and otherwise, and damages the environment as it's extracted, spilled, and burned. Plus, it's friggin expensive.
To quote a friend, "I love looking around and noticing that our car is the cheapest in the lot, and that I wouldn't trade it for any of the others." We get dirty schlepping fry oil from here to there, sure. But it helps keep me honest and paying attention to how much I'm driving. We still use diesel too, but as little as possible.
Now I know we can't all go out and get old Mercedes and Volkswagens to drive around, and I'm not suggesting I'm any better or smarter than anyone for having one. I was lucky to find this one. I didn't really know they existed as recently as a year ago. I also know that we can't all afford a Prius, and that the jury is out on their carbon footprint anyway.
The point is just this: to keep paying attention, learning, and trying. There are alternatives. The technology exists. We don't have to be dependent on foreign oil. We can funnel our resources into development of new ways of navigating this planet. This is going to take large, institutional changes. As individuals, we can tread a little bit more lightly by curbing our consumption, and we can bring these alternatives into the discussion. We can ride our bikes more. Walk more. Shop less....
|Can you see her? NOT a great time to run on veggie oil.|
I'll put up better pictures in the summer, when it's nice and warm and clean outside. Until then, thanks for reading. Lots of love your way from Montreal~