Mr. Green Car: Green transportation at the Energy Fair

The transportation area of the Eighth Annual Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair Aug. 8-9 in Oregon, Ill.
The transportation area of the Eighth Annual Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair Aug. 8-9 in Oregon, Ill.

This last weekend (Aug. 8-9) saw the 2009 Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair at the Ogle County Fairgrounds come and go once again. Despite the heat and rain, a pretty good crowd was on hand to learn more from the many businesses and organizations trying to make progress in the fields of renewable energy and sustainable lifestyles. Green transportation hits on both fields in that bio-fuels are renewable and sustainable.

The fair has an area devoted to transportation. Fuel-efficient cars of all sorts can be found in this area with the hood up, ready for inspection, the owners nearby to answer questions and provide information. Some businesses were there to promote their products or services. These ranged from the vegetable oil co-op, Prairie Fire Bio-Fuels Cooperative of Madison, Wis., who assists with diesel conversions and maintenance, to Azure Biodiesel Co. of Sully, Iowa, selling the equipment to make vegetable oil from soybeans, then convert it to biodiesel (or convert waste oil to biodiesel).

One back-to-the-future company, E-Fuel, has a machine, the “Micro Fueler,” that looks like your own personal gas pump. It converts bio-waste from nearly any source into ethanol at the rate of 40 gallons per day. These are designed to be used in residential, commercial and agricultural applications. I’ll have a full column about this fascinating new development in the future.

Bloom Township High School Science Club is a group of young people from Chicago Heights, Ill., who travel in a bio-diesel-fueled, very colorful old Chevy van-based school bus. The students collect waste vegetable oil, convert it to bio-diesel and travel with their interesting display to educate other students and the public about recycling and the use of sustainable methods for fuel production. Sadly, I did not take their photo Saturday, expecting to do so Sunday—but they were gone. You can learn more about their program at

I learned my last column about veggie oil use in vehicles had some misinformation. One—that pure veggie oil is properly referred to as SVO for straight vegetable oil or WVO for waste vegetable oil. SVO is pure, straight from the plant, while WVO has been used in cooking before being filtered for use in a vehicle. B100 refers to undiluted (no petro-diesel) bio-diesel, which is a fuel created after chemical reaction with alcohol to convert the fatty acids. A future Mr. Green Car will go into details about bio-diesel, too. Suffice to say, B100 is not SVO; however, there has been some confusing usage of the B100 label to refer to both. Two—I also learned that some vehicles can be converted to have a single tank SVO/WVO fuel system that does not require switching between diesel and veggie oil on start-up and shutdown.

Several different veggie oil and biodiesel-powered vehicles were on display, including my own diesel Rabbit (parked behind the The Rock River Times’ tent). Dave Wetzel and his wife came up from Decatur, Ill., in their WVO diesel Mercedes. What was unique about Dave’s car was an arrangement for auto-switching of oil tanks, right from several 4.5-gallon collection barrels in the trunk. And as an experiment, he’s made a hydrogen hydrolyser device that converts distilled water into hydrogen to boast his mileage and performance. It was made of simple PVC pipe fittings and stainless steel electrical outlet covers. Wetzel also gave me a nice, big jug of WVO to take home.

Some displays were about not using fuel at all or as little as possible. As regular as rain at the fair, Dave Lewis of Byron, Ill., showed up with his old, black Chevy S-10 pickup truck that is a pure electric operating on a bunch of lead acid batteries. Lewis, like other area electric auto enthusiasts, belongs to the Fox Valley Electric Auto Association ( There was also an electric Yugo that I did not get a close look at. Two “plug-in” Toyota Priuses were present. One was converted with additional lead acid batteries, while the other had more expensive lithium-ion batteries. Both claimed regularly getting fuel economy in the more than-100 miles-per-gallon range. The one with lithium-ion batteries has eked out 128 mpg in a contest. With plugging in at home and work for a 30.5-mile commute, he uses less than 1 gallon in three trips. The plug-in conversion kits run $5,000 to $10,000, depending on batteries and your participation. Info is available through the Fox Valley Web site.

Other fuel-efficient machines on display were a new Prius with the solar panel-powered ventilation system and a new Honda Insight brought down from LaCrosse, Wis., by Honda Motorwerks. Lastly, my friend Allan Pillard from Princeton, Iowa, brought three of his custom-built “Zing Trike” three-wheeled bicycles with front-wheel drive. They are always a hoot to ride.

Many thanks to Sonia and Bob Vogl and daughter Lin and the many helpers who make this wonderful event happen. Each year, we really enjoy the “gathering of the tribe” to talk to others who are as enthused about sustainability as we are. I’ll also thank them for providing Saturday night’s wonderful band, Hitz City R&B, from the Sterling/Dixon area—check them out.

Ryan Baker, Green Energy Systems, Grand Rapids Mich., with E-Fuel's "Micro Fueler" waste-to-ethanol machine.
Ryan Baker, Green Energy Systems, Grand Rapids Mich., with E-Fuel's "Micro Fueler" waste-to-ethanol machine.


from the Aug 12-18, 2009 issue

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