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Group refurbishes school bus for oily journey


Paul Sims, The Associated Press



(AP) -- STARKVILLE, Miss. - It began as a group trip out West, then evolved into an effort to travel using a fuel found in many kitchens in the country-waste vegetable oil. So far, they''ve found success. 




Nine of the 11 people on the journey launched this past week met at Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science in Columbus and the other two met the rest through mutual acquaintances, said Louis Rosa, a recent graduate of Georgetown University with a degree in international business and a minor in Spanish from Tupelo. 




"It started with a road trip to a music festival," said Liz Kazal, a senior chemical engineering major at Mississippi State University from Ocean Springs. 




However, tickets to the music festival near George, Wash. were sold out. 




"After deciding we wanted to take a road trip, it turned into" getting a school bus so they could all travel together and have someplace to stay, Rosa said. 




Once they came up with this idea, "we all had a uniting interest in alternative energy, so we definitely wanted to fold that into our trip," he said. 




"And thus comes the name W(e) VOW,''" said Cassandre Man-Bourdon, a recent graduate of MSU in biochemistry and microbiology from Ridgeland. 




W(e) VOW is an acronym for Waste Veggie Oil Wagon. 




It also "stands for us making that pledge to use alternative energy and go green," said Man-Bourdon. 




Group members wanted to take a road trip in such a way as to "leave behind an environment that people after us could also enjoy in the same way we did," Rosa said. 




Though the music festival tickets were sold out, "We were still excited to follow the same roads it would take to get there and see the same national landmarks," Man-Bourdon said, adding that they plan to visit the Grand Canyon, the redwood forest, Death Valley and possibly Yellowstone. 




"Our objective changed to not only having fun on a road trip," but it also took on an educational aspect "because we wanted to spread our message," Rosa said. 




Rosa found the 1995 International 3800 through Craigslist and bought it in Dunn, N.C. on March 18. He and J.D. Forde, a senior MSU sociology major from Starkville, drove it back to Mississippi. 




They then set about to rework the bus, starting with the interior. They took all the seats except for four and added a couch and a futon, built another couch and added two sets of bunk beds they built. 




"Most of the supplies for the interior rebuild were recycled or second-hand," Man-Bourdon said. 




They also added carbon-dioxide detectors, a reverse camera to aid the driver in backing up and two fire extinguishers one in the front and one in the back, Rosa said. 




"We researched a lot of the regulations we would encounter. One of those is being listed as" a recreational vehicle, Rosa said, adding that the vehicle met the RV standards. 




Jason Riley, a recent MSU graduate in chemical engineering from Moss Point, said they''ve added a custom filtration system, a fuel pump and a switch so the driver can switch between diesel and vegetable oil. 




The vehicle has to start up on diesel to reach an appropriate temperature-between 140 and 160 degrees-before using vegetable oil. Then, when they driver prepares to shut off the engine, it must be flushed with diesel to keep the vegetable oil from thickening. 




They needed an extra storage tank vegetable separate from the vehicle''s diesel tank, Riley said. The fuel is heated using coolant from the engine and not using additional energy to warm it up, he said. 




A few of the group members had basic mechanical and electrical know-how, but "none of us had ever come close to designing an entire fuel system before. We learned how to do it through our own research," Rosa said. 




"Anyone can do this," Riley said. 




He and Rosa said people don''t need expertise as long as they put in the needed time and research. 




"And it will also pay for itself over a relatively short period of time," Riley said. 




The vegetable oil is "free most of the time," said Kazal. 




If it''s not available free of charge, it runs about $1.20 a gallon and this is in places "where they''ve seen a market for it," she said. 




Restaurants normally pay to have someone dispose of the oil, Kazal said. 




"We''ve called cities as far as far west as Albuquerque, N.M.," and a lot of the time they''ve been told to come and take as much as they want, she said. 




"A lot of chains said they had companies who come in periodically to take care of the grease," Forde said. 




"It''s not as convenient to use waste vegetable oil, but we''re willing to put forth that effort to reduce our negative environmental impact," Man-Bourdon said. 




The group is using predominantly restaurants as fuel sources, Man-Bourdon said. 




"But that''s not all that''s out there," Kazal said, adding the most appealing feature is that "we''re finding another use for waste." 




Man-Bourdon said the use of waste vegetable oil will reduce air pollutants. The group hopes to test the exact reductions in the future. She also said the group will need to fill up more often using waste vegetable oil. 




The group planned to head to Austin, Texas, then on to Flagstaff, Ariz., Death Valley in southern California, north to Novato, Calif. and the San Francisco area, then to the Redwood National and State Parks. 




They haven''t decided the rest of the route, but they have to be in Denver on June 6, Kazal said. They hope to be back in Starkville on June 9.




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