- The Washington Times - Friday, July 18, 2008

FREDERICKSBURG | French fries and hush puppies keep Erik Whittington going on his daily commute from Locust Grove to Stafford County.

Mr. Whittington, 38, doesn’t eat them by the pound. He uses the oil they’re cooked in to fuel his 2002 Volkswagen Jetta, which has a diesel engine.

He gets used cooking oil from Virginia Barbeque in Spotsylvania County, then filters it several times to remove goo left behind after deep-frying.

Then, Mr. Whittington pumps the amber-colored liquid into his tank, turns the key and gets 45 to 48 miles per gallon.

That’s similar mileage to diesel, which was being sold for up to $5 a gallon this week at local stations.

After startup costs of about $2,000 for the conversion kit and filtering system, Mr. Whittington hasn’t spent a dime on the alternate fuel.

“It’s amazing that it works,” he said.

As outreach director for the American Life League, an anti-abortion group, Mr. Whittington commutes more than 50 miles a day to work.

Mr. Whittington has not noticed a change in power since the Jetta became a “veggie car” three months ago. However, he goes through oil and fuel filters faster - because there’s still some gunk after filtering - and those parts are more expensive.

He still uses some diesel fuel because the engine needs to be started and stopped the standard way. The vegetable oil has to warm up before it’s used, then is purged from the lines at the end of the trip with the flip of a switch.

Mr. Whittington supports his wife and four children, ages 2 to 7, on his salary, so he’s always looking for ways to cut costs. But his reasons for trying another energy source go beyond saving money and helping the environment. He doesn’t like to line the pockets of people who despise the United States.

“I have a problem going to a pump and putting in my card and paying all this money and knowing a large percentage of this is going to people who hate us,” he said.

Mr. Whittington said he did a lot of research before he put cooking oil in his car, which led him to Greasecar Vegetable Fuel Systems in Easthampton, Mass. He bought a used Jetta with a diesel engine, then ordered Greasecar’s conversion kit.

The kit sat around for months before he worked up the nerve to install it. He has always changed the oil and done minor repairs, but said he isn’t mechanically minded.

“I talked with a diesel mechanic one time about this, and it was a little bit over my head,” Mr. Whittington admitted.

Using the DVD, he installed valves that let him switch to the vegetable-oil fuel tank, which sits in the spare-tire compartment in the trunk. He also hooked up the hoses from the engine that heat the oil before it can be used.

“If you can change your oil, do some minor repairs on your car, install a garage-door opener, you should be able to do this,” Mr. Whittington said.

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