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Program focuses on renewable resources

July 24, 2005|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

bonnieb@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa.-Matt Steiman doesn't have to go to the gas station very often.

His farm truck and his personal car run on homemade fuel, which he mixes up in a 50-gallon vat at the cost of about $1 per gallon. The truck, which has a full-size engine, gets 21 miles per gallon, and his car gets 40 mpg, about the same as they would get on gasoline. More important than the savings, though, Steiman said, "is the feeling of making your own fuel and driving away with it."

On Saturday, he showed other people how to do the same thing. While he used a quart jar rather than a 50-gallon container, the principle was the same - use methanol and lye to separate the heavier and lighter elements of used cooking oil.

Steiman, the program manager at the Fulton Center for Sustainable Living at Wilson College, gave the demonstration at the Southgate Farmers Market in Chambersburg.

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The methanol is purchased from a gas station, he said, and the lye, which is often used as drain opener, from a grocery store. The cooking oil comes from the fryers in the Wilson College cafeteria.

The exhaust from his vehicles smells like French fries. "People follow us," he joked. The biodiesel fuel is cleaner-burning than gasoline, lower in particulate matter, has lower carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide emissions and doesn't contribute as much to global warming, he added.

Steiman also talked about other free, renewable energy resources. He baked chocolate chip cookies in his large, black solar cooker. The device, which he sometimes uses to make his lunch, would be good for countries that are short on fuel, such as India, he said.

"It's not as convenient as plugging in a stove, but once we build it, it doesn't take any more energy and can be used for years and years."

Watching the demonstration was Joe Lockbaum of Mercersburg, Pa., who said he has been interested in solar power since 1983. He has a four-kilowatt generator that runs on solar power and battery storage that lasts for a day if the power goes off.

He also has two solar panels to heat water. Lockbaum said he is surprised that Pennsylvania doesn't have more solar-powered systems. While he said he has been reading about biodiesel fuels, he does not have room to produce them at his home.

Steiman pumped water into a container using power from the solar panels he had set up in the parking lot. If someone stood in front of the panels and cast a shadow on them, the flow of water slowed.

Cindy Hospodar of Chambersburg said that in her old house, she cut her heating bill by one-third with the use of solar power. After the house was destroyed by fire and a new one built, she has had trouble finding someone to install a solar system.

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