Band’s bus runs on used cooking grease

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Hugh Fisher
Dan Menchey, vocalist and drummer for Boulder, Colo., alt-rock band Morsoul, said that anyone who wants to spread an Earth-conscious message ought to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.
That’s why his band’s bus ó a 1986 model that started its career hauling schoolchildren ó no longer runs on diesel fuel.
By leaving behind “dino-diesel,” as Menchey calls it he’s taking his band’s environmental message on the road, literally.
“This is straight grease,” he said, gesturing toward the back of the bus where aftermarket tanks store 100 gallons of used frying medium from restaurants.
The same cooking oil that fried up potatoes, or maybe Chinese food, just a few weeks before is carefully filtered and used to power the bus, which Menchey named Major Woody.
The savings are incredible. “It only took 40 bucks to get us from Boulder, Colorado to Washington, D.C.,” Menchey said.
Compare that with regular diesel fuel: According to AAA, auto diesel in North Carolina hovered around $2.65 per gallon on average last week.
But almost every restaurant, from fast food to fine dining, has a deep fryer. The abundance of cheap fuel on the road is why Morsoul could head south on the spur of the moment after an invitation to play at Catawba College’s student center Friday night.
The show was part of an event hosted by Environmental Catawba Outreach (ECO), one of the campus’s newest student organizations.
While Morsoul played, ECO club leaders handed out recycling information provided by the City of Salisbury. Fresh fruit and other refreshments provided by area businesses and local farmers.
“The bus is a big draw,” ECO President Sarah Robinson said. “We’re trying to spread awareness of alternative fuels.”
Parked outside, the bus was a clear example of the possibilities that already exist for recycling and finding alternative energy sources.
Menchey said the systems to equip diesel engines to burn
When it’s time to refuel, the band simply has to seek out a restaurant that’s ready to swap out its frying medium.
Menchey can pull up to a restaurant, ask for waste cooking grease and oftentimes fill up for nothing.
But they aren’t guaranteed to get a full tank; “It’s hit or miss,” Menchey said. Catawba College, for instance, wouldn’t have any grease to throw out until today, after the band had to leave town.
And there are some limitations in the system, which Menchey said costs about $3,000 to have professionally installed.
To start the engine, he still needs to use regular diesel fuel, flipping a switch to start running off of cooking oil after the engine is warmed up.
Another system uses heat from the radiator to preheat the grease and ensure that it has the right viscosity.
And even though the grease is strained carefully through screens to remove food particles, it must be filtered very carefully.
To do this, the recycled fuel passes through a bank of four engine oil filters in a special housing under the hood before.
“You have to change them about every 1,000 miles,” Menchey said.
Even with the cost of filters and the installation of the system, the long-term savings are a big help for a band that’s always on the move.
Other bands have swapped their fuel sources, Menchey said.
What’s more, he said that he and his fellow musicians feel like they’re helping the Earth.
“I feel good. I could be with a band that’s promoting environmental awareness and alternative energy, but this is taking the next step,” said Nolan McFadden, traveling with Morsoul as an assistant.