This car runs on soy beans
Biodiesel for cars and home heating is available on the Vineyard, although fuel distributor RM Packer Company has not as yet been promoting it, and only a few enthusiasts have switched to it.
Biodiesel fuel, made from soy beans, produces far fewer harmful chemicals in its exhaust, and it is made from a renewable source of energy grown on American farms.
Environmentalist Lynn Thorpe, whose 1999 VW Beetle uses B100 (100 percent soy bean fuel), is so enthusiastic that she wrote The Times and invited us, "Come smell my diesel car exhaust." It is, she says, rather sweet smelling. Her car bears a sticker on the back window reading, "This car runs on soy beans."
Lynn Thorpe's 1999 VW Beetle runs on 100 percent biodiesel. Photo courtesy of Lynn Thorpe
Long a leader in alternate energy development, the design/build firm South Mountain Company has used biodiesel in its forklifts and dump trucks for five years. Co-owner Phil Forest cites healthier working conditions for the operators, improved breathing for the driving public when following a South Mountain truck, and respect for the Vineyard environment in general.
Proponents of biodiesel are particularly insistent that school buses be fueled with it, because small children are often forced to breathe bus exhaust when lined up for buses at the end of the school day.
RM Packer Co. sells B100 biodiesel and a blend, B20, which is 20 percent soy and 80 percent petroleum. A user can switch back and forth among B20, B100, and ordinary diesel fuel. South Mountain uses B100 in the warm weather and B20 in cold weather, when B100 can thicken and cause problems. Ms. Thorpe says that when she is on the mainland, she has had to fill up with regular diesel when she couldn't find a station selling biodiesel.
Both will work in home heating furnaces that normally use oil. According to Ralph Packer, president of RM Packer, only two homeowners he knows of on Martha's Vineyard currently heat with biodiesel, and only a handful of car drivers use it.
Right now, price may be a factor. Mr. Packer estimated recently that biodiesel cost about 18 cents a gallon more than straight diesel oil. However, the price of both products fluctuates, and Ms. Thorpe says that when gas prices were high last summer, she was paying a few cents less for biodiesel.
"I didn't care what it costs," Ms. Thorpe told The Times in a telephone interview. "I wanted to do something for the environment and to reduce the Island's use of fossil fuels." Her goal is to see the Vineyard independent of fossil fuels by 2015 through the use of biodiesel and hydrogen energy.
Mr. Forest says that South Mountain has a similar philosophy. "The cost at the pump is only a small part of the story," he told The Times.
The web site www.biodiesel.com, based in Hawaii, advises drivers to replace rubber hoses and seals in the fuel system of their cars. Ms. Thorpe, however, has made no changes at all in her VW Beetle and reports that she has had no problems. Mr. Forest says that all his equipment came with synthetic seals anyway, and furthermore that biodiesel lubricates engines better than regular diesel, extending engine life.
It is possible to recycle restaurant friolator fat into biodiesel fuel. Proponents argue that such a product would be cheap, and the exhaust would smell like French fries (no doubt a pleasure for those children waiting for the school bus to pull away). However the soy oil in the B20 and B100 sold by RM Packer is not a recycled product.
RM Packer will deliver B100 biodiesel to your home. An "environmental green" truck has been designed and equipped with two nozzles, one for your diesel car and one for your heating oil tank. The fuel is the same, but the price of home heating oil does not include road taxes.