But he is not stopping in Falmouth for long: shortly after Christmas, Febos will hit the road in his Rabbit, armed with nothing more than a camera, a laptop, and a tank full of vegetable oil.
Combining his interest in low-impact living with a quest to find other people who are setting that example, Febos plans to drive across the country in his vegetable oil-powered car.
With a binder of information as a road map, he plans to visit at least 35 sustainable projects in urban and rural locales, hoping to gain insight and inspiration into how society can design itself according to ecological principles.
In what may be viewed as a modern-day version of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, Febos plans to blog his way across America.
I’m documenting the life process of living more sustainably and happily, while minimizing my use of resources and assessing my impact on the blog. The idea is to inspire people to see how others are making their lives more sustainable with fun, cool projects. That way people can see how they can make changes in their lives.
Creating, not consuming
His journey began in October with a “live-in” exhibition in a Baltimore gallery, entitled “Moving to Utopia: unpacking a quest for a more sustainable life,” a slogan that is also stenciled onto the side of the Rabbit.
Living in the gallery for a week, Mr. Febos depicted his planned journey through photos, drawings, maps, and video, while cataloguing his possessions and “auctioning off” the items he deemed unnecessary. He plans to do a version of this show in New Orleans, and another when he returns to Falmouth.
His previous art projects have included making notebooks out of plastic bags and paper that had been printed on one side, making windows out of glass bottles, and a hammock made of used fabric and plastic bags.
One man’s food is another man’s fuel
While working on community art projects in Baltimore, Febos started to get interested in the mechanics of biodiesel engines a couple years ago. He bought the Rabbit, already equipped with a vegetable oil conversion system built into it, and started imagining the possibilities.
“Having a vehicle that runs on veggie oil seemed like a way to creatively use other people’s waste,” he said.
Though diesel engines can run on straight bio-diesel, using discarded vegetable oil requires a few additional steps, said Febos.
First, one has to find a source of oil. Usually, restaurants and fast-food establishments have to pay to dispose of the used oil, and are only too happy to have someone take it off their hands, he said. A classified-type website, Fillup4free.com, is another source for finding free or cheap waste oil.
Once he collects 10 gallons to fill a separate fuel tank, the oil must then be filtered to remove any food particles or water. Febos has constructed a simple filtration system using plastic buckets and fine-meshed cloth.
He plans to have several gallons of oil filtering while he drives—so as to avoid running out of fuel with no McDonald’s in miles.
One issue with a built-in conversion system is that diesel engines cannot start with vegetable oil, and the car must be warmed up completely before switching over to the bio-diesel source. Therefore, the Rabbit has a regular fuel tank for starting the car and flushing oil from the fuel lines during the last few miles of each journey, Febos said.
“The conversion system is not as good for driving locally. For a three- to four-mile trip it doesn’t really work,” he said.
Mr. Febos plans to take the southern route across the United States, where warmer temperatures should make the oil less likely to congeal. He said the Rabbit gets up to 50 miles per gallon while running on either regular diesel or vegetable oil.
In addition to getting an MPG that rivals hybrid vehicles, running a car on veggie oil benefits the environment in a number of ways.
According to the non-profit educational organization, NOLS, running your car on recycled veggie oil:
- Makes us more energy independent. As long as people eat French fries, there will always be an oil source. Plus, your tailpipe will give off the pleasant odor of fried food, instead of toxic fumes!
- Reduces our dependence on oil from foreign sources or environmentally sensitive areas.
- Does not release sulfuric acid (SO2) into the atmosphere, one of the main causes of acid rain.
- Reduces our carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 78%.
- Produces 48% less carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas, than regular diesel fuel.
- Creates 48% less asthma-causing particulate matter, and 80% less cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH’s) than petroleum diesel.
Connecting the dots
The first stop on Febos’s itinerary is just a few miles from his parents’ home. Having received some guidance on biodiesel vehicles from Joseph L. Hackler, a member of the Alchemy Farm Neighborhood Association, Febos plans to start his blog with a post about the agricultural and renewable energy projects at Alchemy Farm, home of the former New Alchemy Insitute.
Other highlights of the journey will include the Germantown Community Farm in upstate New York, where a fellow Falmouth native, Kaya Weidman, is working on starting up a community radio station, WGXC.
He also plans to visit a shanty boat project in Providence, Rhode Island, where a group has created something like a floating ark, complete with a vegetable garden and chickens and ducks on board.
Farther south, Febos plans to visit intentional communities in Virginia and Tennessee, staying for a while in each place to blog and contribute to projects. He also plans to visit the Project M Lab’s Rural Studio in Greensboro, Alabama, where designers tackle problems and find solutions for poor communities.
“I’m still learning. I want to see and participate in what people are doing, so that later I’ll have the resources to make things happen,” Febos said.
The views and opinions in the Enterprise blogs are those of the author and are not neccessarily shared by Falmouth Publishing.