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Chicken grease, animal parts or Bourbon?
by Gene Owens

I read where it was possible to use cooking oil for motor vehicle fuel, and I got pretty excited about it. I was about to go out and pour Miss Peggy's Canola into the tank of my pickup, but she informed me that I'd have to wait until after supper; she was using her Canola to deep fry some hushpuppies.

It was a stroke of fortune that she held me back. On second read, I learned that the stuff works only for diesel engines, and Gringo, my Japanese pickup with the Spanish name, requires at least 87 octane.

That's unfortunate, because it now develops that used cooking oil makes an acceptable diesel fuel. In the future we may be driving up to McDonalds, ordering a couple of Big Macs and fries to go, and a fill-up with the oil drained from the French fries. If Mickey-D is running low, the Colonel can fix us up with some KFC grease with a bonus of 11 herbs and spices. We may see a healthy competition between KFC and Bo Jangles, which could offer an extra kick with its Cajun-spiced chicken grease.

There are several catches: Even if you have a diesel engine, the engine, fuel tank and the oil must be prepped before you can fill up. You need a heated tank, because when the grease cools it gets thick and won't pass through the fuel lines. You also have to remove the gas, acid and water before you can use the stuff as a motor fuel.

I suppose that if we ever make a wholesale switch to diesel engines and cooking oils, we'll still have a choice of fuels: saturated or polyunsaturated, for instance.

My mechanic advises me to go easy on the saturated fats. Too much cholesterol can clog the fuel lines and cause expensive problems. You don't want Mr. Goodwrench performing a triple bypass on your fuel-injection system. Not unless you have good insurance.

In spite of all that, I'm looking for alternatives to petroleum-based fuels. For weeks now, pump prices have been following a predictable rhythm: When my tank is empty, they go through the ceiling. Immediately after I fill up, they start dropping. But the drop always stops before I need more gas, and by the time I'm empty again the prices have risen to a new peak.

I'm reading now about all sorts of possibilities for biofuels. One is bio-gas -- methane produced from slaughterhouse waste. Take the chicken, beef or pork parts that don't go into table-ready products, grind them into a soupy slurp, then cook them in a special digester and next thing you know you've got methane, which can be compressed and sold in tanks. It's no big challenge to convert a regular gasoline-burning engine into a methane-burning engine.

I used to live in a small town that lay downwind from a rendering plant that processed leftover parts from chickens. The aroma was less inviting than the smell of a diesel engine passing you on a long grade and puffing black smoke in your face. I'm afraid that bio-gas from animal parts might stink up the countryside and gag my gasoline-powered engine, leaving my blue eyes crying in the rain.

Is that Willie Nelson I see approaching?

The country artist and songwriter has started a company that processes soybeans into a fuel oil for diesel engines. He's selling it at truck stops across the nation.

A bean-based fuel may be better than one drained off McDonald's French fries or KFC's fried chicken. Crowded city streets would become smelly corridors if all the traffic burned leftover grease. I remember spending the night in a Chattanooga motel that rented me a room directly over the exhaust fan of a restaurant. The greasy smoke wafted through every crack around the windows and I woke up with watery eyes and greasy hair that would hold its part without the help of Pomade.

Willie seems to have been judicious in his choice of beans. For sheer aroma, I prefer pinto beans, with a touch of ham hock in the bouquet. Navy beans have less flavor and a Southern boy like me doesn't want Great Northern beans on his conscience. I'm afraid Gringo would backfire if I tried to run him on those beans.

But soybeans can be used for almost anything, and they grow well in our Southern climate and soil.

I still dream of the day when all our fuel problems will be solved by converting kudzu to fuel, although I haven't yet figured out a way to do it. Maybe we can turn kudzu into alcohol. I know it won't compete with Gran Marnier as the topping for a B-52, but it may pack enough punch to keep a Ford F-150 on the road.

And if a little brandy can light up a bowl of cherries, why not something more potent to fire up a fleet of Chevys? Who knows? One day the covenience stores along the Interstates may be offering Jim Beam and Jack Daniel's instead of BP and Exxon.

I can see a couple of problems with this. It may produce a lot of tailgaters eager to breath in the exhaust. And too many drivers will be tempted to siphon off a little fuel at every Interstate rest stop.

But even at that, it would beat grease drained off McDonald's fries or gas coming from decaying animal parts.


Gene Owens has been around the Southern journalistic scene for 48 years. He has been senior associate editor of The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., and editorial-page editor of the Roanoke Times in Roanoke, Va.

As senior editor for Creative Services, a management consulting firm in High Point, N. C., he ghosted more than a dozen published books for professional clients. For the past nine years he has been assistant managing editor, political editor and columnist for the Mobile Register. Register readers named him their favorite local columnist, and readers of the independent regional magazine, Bay Weekly, agreed. He was runner-up in the regional Green Eyeshades competition among writers of humor columns.

He has been on the board of directors of the National Conference of Editorial Writers and was editor of The Masthead, the NCEW’s national quarterly. He is in semi-retirement in Anderson, S. C.

Read more of Gene's entertaining columns:
Warning: Raspberry running ant is coming!
Polaroid fades into history
A Tribute to Johnny Cash
Roy Moore at the Courthouse Door
All about Gene and Greasepit Grammar
Greasepit Grammar: Misplaced modifiers
Greasepit Grammar: Inertia can get you
Greasepit Grammar: Drinking and dranking
Greasepit Grammar: A Pronominal grand slam
The Wal-Mart Paradox
Taking a week off from retirement to do nothing
Insulation reduces mouse mortality rate
Flocking South with the snowbirds
Juicy Fruit will gum up the mole works
Dan Rather and the Texas truth
Putting on the dog!
Holly cheesetoast!
If only our forefathers had used attack ads
Decent 'dogs

Write Gene Owens at 317 Braeburn Drive, Anderson SC 29621 or e-mail him at WadesDixieCo@aol.com

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