Massachusetts high school students converted this Ford Ranger to run on electricity and solar energy.© Adrian Larose
The team purchases clean energy credits from ClimateSAVE to make up for the electricity the truck consumes when plugged into the power grid. “There are more plugs out there than there are gas stations,” Wells says. And with a 100-foot extension cord, it’s easy to plug in anywhere.
In ideal warm conditions with a skilled driver, Woodstock can travel up to 100 miles on a single charge, but 60 miles is more realistic. The truck can reach speeds of 90 miles per hour.
The St. Mark’s group also showcased”Moritz,” a 2000 Volkswagen Jetta TDI, which runs on biodiesel that the students produce from leftover oil. (With the right chemicals and some expertise, people can brew biodiesel through a reaction with just about any vegetable oil or fats.) The team did not change the Jetta in any way except to put biodiesel in the tank in place of regular, gas-station diesel. “We can switch to a non-petroleum source of energy if the public is interested,” says student Carole Lemos-Wade.
Greasecar. Winners of the Tour de Sol are measured by how many miles per gallon they achieve, not by how fast they travel. A Mini of the sort Austin Powers drove (with a simple green paint job) took third place, and it did so running on vegetable oil. Greasecar sells fairly simple conversion kits that turn diesel cars into vegetable-oil chomping machines. They start at about $800.
A converted car runs off two fuel tanks, with the first containing standard diesel. Since diesel engines cannot burn cold vegetable oil, the Greasecar system heats the oil while the car runs on diesel fuel. With the oil warmed up, the driver can switch to the second tank, which contains filtered vegetable oil. Drivers must also switch back to diesel shortly before parking, to ensure the vegetable oil does not cool down inside the engine. Since many restaurants have used vegetable oil they would otherwise pay to dispose of, Greasecar users can often get this clean-burning fuel from restaurants for free. The conversion kit retails at about $800, not including installation. CONTACT: Greasecar, (413)529-0013, www.greasecar.com.
Optibike. The 2005 Neighborhood Electric Vehicle winner, Optibike returned this year with its fire-engine red, pedal-assisted electric bicycle. The Optibike 400 is powered by a nickel-metal-hydride battery concealed in the frame and, with an additional push from pedaling, can reach speeds up to 35 mph. This year, Optibike Marketing Director Craig Weakley also rode in Tour de Sol’s car competition, a long-distance course from Saratoga Springs to Cooperstown, New York. “We wanted to show our customers that the bike can go 100 miles,” he says. No stranger to challenges, Weakley has also ridden the Optibike up Colorado’s Pike’s Peak—an elevation gain of about 7,200 feet over 19 miles—in under two hours. As for safety, the bike’s low center of gravity, full suspension and disc brakes keep the rider in control at high speeds. The fully assembled bike, which is hand-built in a wind-powered facility in Boulder, Colorado retails at $5,495. CONTACT: Optibike, (303)443-0932, www.optibike.com.
The State Gets Involved
The state-sponsored show also served to publicize New York government programs driving towards greener transportation, including plans for an alternative energy research facility at the Saratoga Technology and Energy Park, where the event was held this year. Bob Callender, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority’s vice president for programs, notes that last year New Yorkers spent $53 billion on energy, 85 percent of which was imported. “It’s time for us to think outside the barrel,” he says.
Hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, the result of collaboration between Honda and New York’s state government, were on display. Not long ago, fuel-cell cars were seen only in diagrams and predictions of what was to come. Not any more. “They drive,” says Carl Johnson, deputy commissioner with the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation. “They’re the real thing. You get the driving and environmental performance you’re looking for.” Perhaps those qualities—and a slightly less sky-high price tag—are what’s needed to put Tour de Sol technology to everyday use.
Hazard hopes plug-in hybrid cars will be one green step forward. “In five or 10 years, I hope that we’re going to see plug-in hybrids that anyone can buy,” she says. “That’s a doable goal.”
Northeast Sustainable Energy Association, (413)774-6051, www.nesea.org
Tour de Sol, www.tourdesol.org
n Larose is a journalism student from Ontario who focuses on earth-friendly energy, in particular renewable transportation. He is an intern with E.
Brianne Goodspeed is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and current E Magazine intern. She has worked with farmers in West Africa, biked solo through France, and hiked the Appalachian Trail.