LAKE GEORGE - With the environmentally devastating oil spill in the Gulf raising questions about our society's insatiable dependency on oil and its disastrous consequences, one Lake George man can apparently breathe a little easier than the rest of us.
Smell his car's exhaust, and you can figure out who can feel a lighter burden of guilt than the average U.S. citizen.
Take a whiff - it smells like fried chicken and french fries.
John Carr, owner of Adirondack Pub & Brewery and Moose Tooth Grill on Canada Street, recycles his restaurants' fryer oil and uses it virtually exclusively to power his automotive travel.
Carr simply filters his used canola oil and pours it into a fuel tank of his almond-colored 1983 Mercedes 300D sedan, fires it up, and takes off.
The exhaust emissions are supposed to be far less polluting and noxious than fossil fuel emissions, and driving on used vegetable oil is re-using a renewable resource that would otherwise be disposed of.
He recently demonstrated the purity of his fuel, as he stuck his finger into his fuel tank and licked it.
He said driving 1,600 miles on canola oil produces less pollution than driving on one gallon of fossil fuel.
"I love this car and the fact it's the most environmentally responsible automobile around," he said.
It also means he can keep his cash in his wallet rather than spending a lot of it on fuel. Also, his use of used fryer oil means he doesn't have to pay hundreds of dollars annually to dispose of it.
Carr said about four years ago, a friend of his suggested he recycle his canola oil and save money while boosting the environment.
He bought the Mercedes soon after, and studied the technology involved in accomplishing a few simple modifications to the fuel system - it took him about 20 hours of work to fashion the simple devices.
Basically, the canola oil has to be heated up to 170 degrees to burn as efficiently as either fossil diesel or biodiesel, so he fashioned a heat exchanger, with heat transferred from his radiator, that boosts the temperature appropriately.
He starts his engine routinely with biodiesel, or the canola oil treated with lye and methanol, which is easily accomplished in quantity. The biodiesel he produces is used merely to start up the engine and get it hot. He has a two-way valve and two tanks that allow him to switch between one fuel and the other.
At first, his wife Cindy was skittish about the vehicle. Now, she enjoys cruising with him while they feel they're doing their part for a greener earth.
They've traveled about 40,000 miles in the 1983 Mercedes since converting, spending virtually nothing on fuel. He's driven it to Manhattan and Montr al and everywhere in between, daily for four years, without a mechanical or fuel problem. The oil he said, allows his engine to run smoother, quieter and with greater lubrication than conventional fuel.
One of the major side benefits, however, is the camaraderie amongst biodiesel enthusiasts he runs into frequently. Many of the old Mercedes still on the road have been converted, he said. They can be identified, perhaps, as the ones not belching black smoke like ones that are gulping fossil fuels, but the sedans emitting a sweet odor of Moo Goo Gai Pan or one of Colonel Sanders' offerings.
"We meet a lot of other biodiesel and 'grease' people who [find it] fascinating," he said. "To be into this, you have to be environmentally motivated and mechanically inclined."
Carr's ecology-conscious attitude extends to his two restaurants. He's reduced his energy consumption dramatically this past year or so by installing super-high efficiency heaters for both his beer-making tanks and his food fryers. He's installed lots of fluorescent lighting and some heat exchangers to capture energy that is typically wasted. He also installed a super-high efficiency heating systems in his businesses. Through these measures, he saves about 20 percent in his total energy use, he estimated.
But his greatest joy comes from reaping the environmental benefits and cash savings from running his Mercedes on waste vegetable oil, he said.
"When fuel goes to $7 per gallon, it won't make any difference to me," he said, noting his Mercedes creates less total pollution than a hybrid or an electric car, which relies heavily on coal-burning utility plants for power.
His relationship with his Mercedes, however has some urging him to conform and buy a gas hog - some wonder why a man who owns two very successful businesses in Lake George isn't driving an Cadillac Escalade or equivalent.
"People rib me about my old sedan, and I'm like, 'absolutely no way' - I honestly love it, and how it has such a small carbon footprint," he said. "Think of the amount of waste fryer oil the village of Lake George generates, and what a shame we aren't putting it all to use, driving around on it."