Fairfield’s color may be red, but going green is becoming a trend on campus.

Flip on the news and you will probably hear something about soaring gas prices, environmental disaster and international conflict with oil-producing countries.

Two Fairfield students, Robert Scribner ’09 and Peter Krueger ’08, are helping to protect the ozone layer and lessen our country’s dependency on oil by using alternative sources of fuel for their cars.

The United States is the top oil-consuming country, using 20,730,000 barrels a day according to the CIA World Fact Book. However, a car engine can also run on grease or various oils by either modifying the fuel or modifying the car.

Krueger, who just bought a 1972 Mercedes Diesel car, chemically combines oil with other substances to create the biodiesel fuel for his car. Biodiesel is a reformulation of vegetable oil that acts like a petroleum-derived diesel fuel but has 85 percent lower emissions.

He said he first got excited by the idea when he saw his brother-in-law drive a biodiesel car.

“I’m an environmentalist, but it is more the idea of no dependency on foreign oil. The amount of money we give away because of it is ridiculous,” Krueger said.

The process, which he says doesn’t require a scientific background, involves filtering and warming the oil, and then mixing a sodium or potassium hydroxide with an alcohol reactant and combining it with the grease.

After it settles and separates, the mixture is washed to rid itself of impurities.

It takes about 48 hours to create in warm weather and a week in colder conditions.

Scribner chose the mechanical option instead of biodiesel. He got the idea to convert his car from his uncle, who also has the system in his car.

“I thought it was crazy at first,” said Scribner. “Then I did research and realized it was a good idea and gave it a shot.”

He converted his car to have a duel system to run both on gas and used vegetable oil. The car runs on diesel until enough energy has been created to heat the vegetable oil and thin it out. After a couple of minutes, he presses the switch to have it start running on vegetable oil.

Scribner bought the conversion kit, which is composed of two 40-gallon tanks, hoses and the switch, this past summer off greasecare.com.

The kit and the installation cost $2,000, but Scribner said it has already paid for itself. With a full tank of diesel and vegetable oil, the car can go at least 800 miles before needing to be refueled.

Scribner chose to install the system in a ’94 Suburban, which has the same engine that was used at first in Hummers.

“I wanted to take the biggest gas guzzler I could find, and I wanted to prove you could be green with just about anything,” he said.

Scribner, who is a volunteer EMT and firefighter on Long Island, uses it to respond to emergency 911 calls.

“That’s how reliable it is,” said Scribner. “I haven’t had any problems with it yet. It actually drives smoother and easier with the vegetable oil than with regular gas.”

According to Cindy Perkins, who gave a lecture to an ecology and society class, reusing vegetable oil as fuel also solves the problem of what to do with the grease waste from it that does not biodegrade well in landfills.

Most restaurants are willing to donate their used vegetable oil for free because otherwise they have to pay for pick up and disposal of it, she said.

Professor Joanne Choly, biology laboratory coordinator and adjunct lecturer in biology and environmental studies, explained the importance of exploring fuel alternatives.

“We are using a finite resource on a path that pretends that the resource is infinite. Not developing sustainable alternatives means that as supply dwindles, demand will cause a price increase,” she said.

“This increase will increase the costs of just about everything, because just about everything is oil-dependent in one or more ways – at least in transportation,” Choly said.

“Some folks and businesses and countries and groups will not be able to afford materials – the oil itself or the oil-dependent materials,” she added.

Many larger universities, such as the University of Vermont and the University of Ohio use biodiesel fuel for their campus operation vehicles. The United States military uses more biodiesel than any other entity in the country.

Fairfield is currently one of the few schools in the process of growing algae in its labs to create fuel.

One of the main criticisms of biofuel is that it increases food production costs. Choly said that algae can be grown in areas not critical for food production.

“It is a glorious process,” said Lisa Newton, professor of philosophy and director of the applied ethics and environmental studies programs, whose daughter, Perkins, is also working on the project with Choly.

After enough algae is grown, it can be dried and pressed to get oil. Then biodiesel is extracted out of it.

“Algae is the next big thing,” agreed Krueger. “If we can get it into fuel form, we can solve a lot of problems.”

Choly exposes her students to some of these ideas in her classes, ecology and society

and seminar on the environment: focus on Latin America and the Caribbean.

She has found that students are very interested in the problem.

“There has been a shift in concern for the environment since 1994, when I first taught Ecology and Society,” said Choly. Then I would have more students argue, take positions against those I was proposing.”

“Today, students may be upset by what they read and hear in their courses, but they are just as likely to be upset that ‘no one told me these things’ as they are to be upset about the data and ideas themselves,” she continued.

If students are interested, there are an ample number of resources online that provide more information and give simple how-to guides, such as www.biodieselcommunity.org .

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