Powered by cooking oil, a bus dubbed the “Santa Maria” docked at Isla Vista’s Little Acorn Park yesterday afternoon, making UCSB the latest stop on its Southern California tour intended to promote the use of alternative fuels.
The former Seattle Metro Transit Agency bus, which has been modified to run on vegetable oil instead of diesel, arrived mid-morning at the corner of El Embarcadero and Embarcadero del Mar as part of the Big Words Eco-Tour, sponsored by www.bigwords.com, an Internet search engine that compares textbook prices to help students find the lowest rate on the Web. Temple of Funk, a hip hop band touring with the bus, performed atop the vehicle from noon to 1 p.m.
The bus runs on pure vegetable oil – typically used for cooking purposes – rather than biodiesel, a vegetable-based, chemical-processed fuel that can also run in a car’s diesel engine. The vegetable oil currently powering the bus was converted from used cooking grease. In the converting process, vegetable oil is sucked out of grease bins and run through a filter before it is used.
Chris Nowak, the owner of the bus, said the cost of fuel per gallon is $1.50, compared to the typical $2.50 for diesel fuel in California. However, Nowak also said the bus cannot run solely on vegetable oil.
“We start up and shut down on diesel because, if you keep the vegetable oil and it gets cold in the engine, then it will be hard to start,” Nowak said. “You lose viscosity as it gets cold; it doesn’t flow as easily, so it will make it harder to pump it through.”
So far, the Santa Maria has driven 600 miles on the course of its 11-day tour, which includes campuses such as Cal Tech, UC Riverside, UC Irvine and California State University at Pomona. The group, however, has only visited campuses where student groups extended invitations to Temple of Funk, Big Words and the vegetable oil-run bus.
UCSB’s Environmental Affairs Board responded to the eco-tour’s request to visit Santa Barbara. Junior geology and business economics major Jane Richardson, an EAB member, said the bus’s visit was EAB’s way of kicking off the new school year.
“We’re promoting alternative fuel and energy,” Richardson said.
Tour organizer Randy Sherwood said the event was part of a larger campaign to educate students about renewable energy possibilities.
“We decided to do this tour, and Big Words kicked down to help us do the tour and paid for the [bus’s] conversion to happen,” Sherwood said. “Now we’re rolling on veggie oil and we’re going to 10 campuses in Southern California, telling people about renewable energy, throwing bouncy balls at them and telling them about Big Words.”
Erin-B, lead singer of Temple of Funk, said he believes this alternative fuel source is preferable to other environmentally friendly fuel alternatives, despite drawbacks related to its viscosity.
“We’re running straight vegetable oil and, because it’s less processed, it’s just better because any time you process a natural thing like vegetable oil with chemicals, it’s going to be harder to break down later on,” he said. “We use all recyclable vegetable oil, so all of the oil we use is a waste product.”
Temple of Funk decided to participate in the tour because the group is committed to promoting environmental awareness and other social causes, Erin-B said.
“[Our lyrics] fit in with the vegetable oil thing because we’re all about the environment and social progress and political progress,” Erin-B said. “We do socially conscious hip hop with a positive message.”
But the tour’s message is not intended to be purely environmental, Nowak said.
“I’m promoting fun,” he said. “I’m promoting living life to the fullest every day.”
Sherwood said the eco-tour is planning to work in conjunction with Big Words again in the future.
“We heard you can run the bus on fish oil as well, so we’re seeing if we can get the hookup on that as well,” Sherwood said.