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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Weekend interview with a (gr)easy rider, student inventor



Colin_3 When Colin Coon chose his senior project, he decided to go really big. A senior at New Gate School in Sarasota, Colin bought a 1980 diesel Mercedes station wagon and rigged it so that it runs on used vegetable oil. He will take off Saturday on a cross-country road trip, expected to last about six weeks and take him about 8,500 miles. You can follow his exploits on his blog. He spoke with reporter Ester Venouziou about his road trip plans.

Are you an environmentalist?

"Not really ... I'm more interested in how wind and water and sun energy can power (a car) than in the green aspects."

So I guess you must know a lot about cars?

"I've been working on cars with my dad since I was 6. I love pulling things apart and putting things together.  ...  and ever since I heard of using vegetable oil, I've been fascinated by it."

What's this costing you?

Colin says he's getting sponsors and donations to raise about $8,500. That will help cover the cost of the car ($5,000); a Greasecar conversion kit ($1,000) that lets the diesel car run on vegetable oil; initial repair work including a new filtration system ($2,500); and money for maintenance during the trip ($1,000), including oil changes, tires and other things that might come up. He plans to cut costs by staying mostly with friends and relatives along the way. The drive will be mostly solo, though some friends plan to join him for parts of the ride.

How does veggie driving work? And is it working?

The car runs on fuel for the first 20 to 30 miles, until the vegetable oil heats up, Colin says. Then there's a switch that lets the car run on the oil. For short trips, or when it's really cold out, it doesn't really work that well. Colin says it took about him 40 hours to install the conversion kit, and he has been driving the car a lot since December "to make sure any mishaps happen here, instead of Kentucky."

Do your friends think you're crazy?

"No, they think it's great! My car's name is Norm, everyone knows him. ...  Everyone is really excited. Some (people) are helping me a lot."

Are you worried about anything?

"No," he says, explaining that he has gone cross-country dozens of times with family, so he knows what to do if there's trouble. Friends will come along for parts of the ride, but for the most part he'll be on his own, his first long solo trip. "I can handle it," he says. "I'm not scared of anything."

Are you hoping to become rich and famous?

"I wouldn't mind it, but money isn't big deal for me right now." The point of this trip, he says, is to show that it's possible. "We're stuck thinking fossil fuel is the only way to go, but there are so many other things we haven't explored yet. If an 18-year-old can drive on vegetable oil, why can't our country do the same thing?"

What comes next?

He's waiting to hear from the University of Central Florida in Orlando. If that doesn't work out, he plans to go to Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne to study aerospace engineering.


[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 10:16am]


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