Justin Carven

Guru of Grease

Green Fuels: A Guide

No doubt you've been hearing the buzz about biodiesel. A chemically processed mixture of vegetable oil, methanol, and lye, usually blended with other diesel fuels, it sells for about the same price as unleaded gas, with fewer greenhouse-gas emissions and up to 40 percent better mileage. But 27-year-old Justin Carven, of Florence, Massachusetts, has come up with a smarter, cheaper way to drive greener. Carven's Greasecar Vegetable Fuel System modifies any diesel engine to run on pure recycled cooking oil—cleaner and more fuel-efficient than biodiesel and free at Chinese restaurants and fast-food joints nationwide. Carven developed the Greasecar concept while studying mechanical design at Hampshire College, in Amherst, Massachusetts. His first real road test—a 2000 postgraduation trip from Cape Cod to California and back in a grease-powered VW Westfalia—drew so much attention that he soon began marketing easy-to-install Greasecar kits to the public. Carven and his staff of three (who produce all the components by hand in East Hampton, Massachusetts) report that 2004 sales are up 500 percent over last year, with 60 Greasecar kits, at $795 a pop, being ordered each month by a customer base that's grown beyond the original dreadlocks-and-patchouli crowd. "I tried using biodiesel, but it was hard to find, and I figured why not go 100 percent?" says Mark Howard, an information-technology consultant in New Hampshire who installed a Greasecar system on his 1997 VW Passat last spring. "I estimate that I save $80 to $100 a month on gas." Carven admits that vegetable oil is not the perfect replacement for gasoline—for one thing, lugging around vats of grease and filtering out the McNugget batter and other impurities can be a chore. But he thinks it's a worthy alternative until another green fuel is developed. "It's renewable, produced domestically, and not going to run out like fossil fuels," he argues. "This stuff literally grows on trees."

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