As automakers and governments scramble to come up with solutions to the intertwined problems of global warming and the volatile prices and rapidly diminishing supplies of oil, Josh Tickell continues his crusade for biofuels. It’s a crusade that can be traced back to his childhood.
Tickell’s interest in alternative fuels took root when, as a young boy growing up in industrialized southern Louisiana, members of his family were stricken with illnesses attributed to exposure to pollution from nearby oil refineries.
His journey since then has been anything but conventional and can best be summed up by a quote from Tickell himself: “It was my dad who started it all. He introduced me to the two greatest loves of my life – French fries and fast cars.”
While a student at the New College of South Florida, Tickell began to research alternative energy sources. He became acquainted with biofuels while working on a farm in the former East Germany through a college exchange program. Biodiesel has been in use in Eastern Europe for decades. In fact, Rudolf Diesel, the inventor of the diesel engine, designed his inventions to run on vegetable oil, not modified petroleum over 100 years ago.
After returning to the United States, he attended Florida State University and received his Master of Fine Arts degree Motion Picture and Television and Recording Arts.
In 1997, Tickell bought a used diesel-powered Winnebago van and equipped it with a homemade biodiesel processor he named “The Green Grease Machine”. Over the next two and a half years, Tickell took his sunflower emblazoned “Veggie Van” on a cross country tour, stopping at fast food restaurants to refill his fuel tank with used fryer oil and at local radio and TV stations to promote his cause. The used vegetable oil was mixed with methanol and lye and left to ferment overnight. The next morning, the concoction would be pumped into the Veggie Van’s fuel tank. Tickell claims that during his cross country trek, his 3-ton; converted Winnebago got 25 miles to the gallon of biofuel. He says that biodiesel fuel produces 75% less cancer-causing emissions than fossil fuels. Exhaust emissions, he says, smell like French fries.
Tickell’s first book chronicling the Veggie Van tour was entitled “From the Fryer to the Fuel Tank – The Complete Guide to Using Vegetable Oil as n Alternative Fuel”. The tour and the book launched Tickell onto the national stage, and in 2005 he became involved with former president Clinton’s Global Initiative on Climate Change.
Today, Tickell back on the road. This time it’s in a modified Toyota Prius dubbed “Algaeus” which is powered by biofuel produced by Sapphire Energy of San Diego, California. The biofuel contains 5% algae and Tickell expects to burn a mere 60 gallons on his current cross country trek. His journey, which began last Tuesday in San Francisco, will conclude in New York City on September 18 and coincide with the release of his new documentary film entitled FUEL. The film retraces the history of U.S. energy policy and examines alternative fuels and technologies that may hold the keys to a more secure and environmentally-friendly future.