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Cambridge Energy Fair: Low Carbon Diets to Greasecars

Cambridge Energy Fair: Low Carbon Diets to Greasecars

By Karen Klinger

Outside the Cambridge Home & Energy Fair, James Staunton discussed the differences among the biofuels arrayed in jars on a Volkswagen Rabbit the way a chef might explain variations in types of cooking oils, from olive to canola to corn.

Not surprising, really, because the fuel the VW runs on is cooking oil and the diesel vehicle is one of a growing number of “greasecars” rolling around Massachusetts.

With the cost of gasoline and diesel fuel on a steep upward trajectory, greasecars are models of thrift: the used vegetable oil that powers them is free, given away by restaurants happy that they don’t have to pay someone to dispose of it.

Staunton works with Patrick Kearney, co-founder of the small Brighton firm Green Grease Monkey (http://www.greengreasemonkey.com/), which converts diesel cars to run on the restaurants’ unwanted grease and also turns batches of the grease into refined biodiesel.

Greasecars have a few drawbacks, Staunton conceded, among them that the exhaust from the veggie fuel tends to “make your car smell like a Friolator.” But in a country that’s been called “Fast Food Nation,” who would notice?

He and Kearney were among more than two dozen exhibitors at the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School May 17 for the city’s third annual energy fair. The displays ran a wide green gamut touting everything from renewable energy to alternative transportation, energy conservation, climate protection, recycling and carbon dieting.

For about $1,300, Green Grease Monkey will convert a standard diesel vehicle into a grease burner by installing a red plastic tank for the vegetable oil in the trunk, along with a heat exchanger, copper coil, fuel line and switchers that allow the driver to start the car using the existing tank of diesel fuel, changing to grease after a few minutes warm-up and back to diesel before shutting it off. Staunton said greasecars typically get about the same mileage as conventional diesels, with the same degree of durability.

Inside the fair, Mary Sacksteder of Greendecade/Cambridge (http://www.greencambridge.org/), a local group focused on climate protection, discussed the many benefits of going on a diet—the kind that author David Gershon describes in his book “Low Carbon Diet,” a guide to reducing household output of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide by at least 15 percent, or 5,000 pounds, in just 30 days.

Sacksteder’s table featured a display comparing energy-hogging incandescent light bulbs with efficient compact fluorescent bulbs that give off an equal amount of light but use 75 percent less electricity and last longer, saving an estimated $30 over their lifetimes. Not only are the fluorescent lights economical but they are great for carbon dieting: replacing a single 60-watt incandescent bulb with a 15-watt fluorescent one will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an impressive 463 pounds.

Among the other exhibitors at the fair was the Cambridge Energy Alliance (http://www.cambridgeenergyalliance.org/), a city-sponsored nonprofit group created to help residents save money on utility costs, reduce Cambridge’s carbon footprint and create jobs. The alliance conducts free energy audits that it says can achieve savings of up to 30 percent on fuel, electricity and water bills.

The energy fair was put on by the Cambridge Department of Community Development, which lists on its website (www.cambridgema.gov/cdd) other initiatives by businesses, community groups, universities and the city government to make Cambridge a greener place to live.

For more information about climate protection in Cambridge contact city environmental planner John Bolduc at jbolduc@cambridgema.gov or call 617-349-4628.