Veggie oil-powered bus rolls through the county |

Veggie oil-powered bus rolls through the county

Nicole Frey
Special to the DailyThe Big Green Bus and its occupants are on a mission to increase peoples awareness about alternative fuels.

VAIL – Come inside and breathe in the stale mustiness of a Dartmouth College dorm room. A couple of bunk beds occupy the far end, homemade shelves with plastic containers line portions of the walls, and, of course, the obligatory ancient couches are there. One man lies buried under a mound of blankets and pillows on one couch. It’s not until he starts moving that he’s even noticeable. It’s a typical Friday morning college scene, expect these Dartmouth students’ dorm room is really a big hunk of green metal riding on four large wheels parked at Donovan Park in West Vail. It’s the Big Green Bus – a vegetable oil-powered home away from home for a dozen Dartmouth students for about six weeks this summer. “I wanted to see the county, and this seemed like a fun way to do that and to do something for a good cause,” said Andrew Zabel, a Connecticut native who studies English and history. “It was a way to get out of the college bubble.”From Frisbee to veggie oilInspired by a Dartmouth student group that toured the country via bus last summer trying to increase the popularity of ultimate Frisbee, Zabel and his eleven cohorts decided to model their summer similarly. They bought a $7,000 bus and invested another $1,500 to $2,000 converting the diesel engine to vegetable oil.

Sporting a 120-gallon tank, the students reported having the best luck fueling up at Chinese eateries, diners and Denny’s restaurants, where they request the restaurant’s used vegetable oil. They get about 1,000 miles to the tank, though they do have to use a bit of regular diesel to get the bus going and stopped. The non-polluting energy source also comes with an enticing bacon smell, the bus riders said. Starting their journey at 1 a.m., June 14 in New Hampshire, the environmentally conscious dozen are spreading the word about alternative fuel sources – types of energy other than gas and oil. “We don’t advocate a certain alternative fuel,” said Andy Wright, a government and anthropology student from Virginia. “We’re not saying that vegetable oil is for every car.”But seeing as Americans, who make up 4 percent of the world’s population, are using 25 percent of the world’s energy, something’s got to give, the group agreed.”This is a huge market that will have to be tapped,” said Craig Rubens, an environmental studies and film and television student from New York. “There’s just too much money to be made in alternative fuels.”Teaching and trashy magazines

Targeting young people, the Big Green Bus hosts interactive presentations to get people interested in a topic that can seem complicated, given its scientific nature. The group is targeting most major cities in the United States, visiting environmental fairs and conventions, large venue concerts, summer camps and other events. On their way to host a presentation in Denver, the group spent just one night in Vail. Zabel has a friend in town, leftover from his days as a liftie on Vail Mountain. Most of the group crashed there last night, though a couple elected to stay on the bus. As the students are from all over, they’re often able to take rely on their friends’ and families’ hospitality. At a maximum speed of 62 mph, it’s slow going. The gang expects to hit about 30 mph chugging up Vail Pass. But they don’t mind.”We’re not in a hurry,” said Mitch Ermentrout, the 24-year-old oldest member of the group, who hails from Georgia. “We’re too busy working or hanging out.”The 12 have redefined the art of napping since they boarded the bus, and even science-minded Ermentrout – an ecology, evolutionary biology and medicine student – indulges in trashy magazines nowadays. The flat-screen television serves an official capacity by showing slideshows of their mission, but movies also help pass the long hours. Wave of the future?

The riders on the Big Green Bus are all friends, but living in a green tin can can get old for anyone. “We get time to do our own thing,” Ermentrout said. “Like when we were in Santa Monica, half of us stayed and showed the bus and the other half went to the beach, and then we switched.”With about half their days spoken for, there was time to raft down the Colorado River and even appear on the “Price Is Right” between engagements. The trip has afforded them the opportunity to visit power plants and other government agencies on the forefront of alternative energies.”I’ve learned so much already,” Zabel said. “There’s a time limit on what we’ve got. These alternative fuels are going to have to become a reality soon.”Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 748-2927 or Vail, Colorado

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