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Alternative fuel smells of french fries

Randy Gyllenhaal / Reporter

Need to get around campus this weekend? Why not take a colorful approach? Elon’s newest addition to its lineup of trams is a green and blue clad bus that runs entirely on an alternative energy source—soybeans.

This “bio-bus” is one of four expected to eventually crawl throughout the campus. The current one serves the outer loop route, making trips to and from University Pointe.

The tram runs on an environmentally friendly fuel called bio-diesel—basically diesel fuel made from different organic fat substances.

“Bio-diesel is an alternative diesel fuel that’s made out of vegetable oil instead of petroleum oil,” said Leif Forer, co-founder of an alternative fuel company in Pittsboro. Piedmont Biofuels began distributing bio-diesel in the Triad area last October.

The bio-bus gets eight miles to the gallon while serving students. Though this may seem like a gas-guzzling amount, Forer points out that bio-fuels are not made from petroleum oil. Burning bio-diesel is less harmful to the environment and reduces dependency on natural petroleum.

The words “BIOFUEL POWERED” and “Elon Cares” are seen visibly on the tram’s side as a symbol of Elon’s new commitment to cleaner energy. Environmental Studies professors suggested the idea of the bus as part of an “environmental initiative to raise awareness,” said Will Mackin, an associate professor of biology.

The letters “PART” can also be seen, as the bus is partially sponsored by the Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation.

Elon’s student run Campus Climate Challenge, which has helped to create environmental awareness in students, faculty and school administration, is pleased to see that Elon has stepped forward in alternative energies.

“The bio-bus is an incredible step in the right direction and I’m really proud of all the effort that is being put forth on campus,” said sophomore Christine Irvine, president of the on-campus group.

The new bio-bus has also created opportunities for those aside from Mother Nature.

“If you look at all the seats, there are signs that say ‘handicap,’” part-time tram driver Carl Bodsford said.

The bio-bus is the first handicap accessible tram on Elon’s campus, which will allow disabled students to get around more quickly. New features include a wheelchair lift and handicap accessible seats.
“This is a big change for us,” Bodsford said.

Mackin and Irvine warn that bio-diesel is not the cure for solving America’s environmental worries—or Elon’s for that matter.

“Elon can do a lot more,” Irvine said. “And I have faith that they will.”

The two agree that the new bio-bus is a great way to get students to start thinking about alternative energies.

“What they [Elon] are trying to do is get air pollution cleaned up,” Bodsford said. He added that the fuel “stinks.” Since bio-fuel is derived from fat, an odor similar to french fries often lingers outside the bus.

Bio-diesel will work in any diesel engine, while a modified engine would need to built for vegetable oil consumption.

“I have a Volkswagen and I use vegetable oil and bio-diesel,” Mackin said.

Mackin avoids using traditional diesel fuel because of the harm it can cause to the environment. The “dirtiness of our diesel fuel” turns him away from using it, he said.

“It has about 500 parts of sulfur. That’s a lot of sulfur,” Mackin said.