Veggie-heaven: Gliding oil the way to Alaska

While the crusted grease receptacle behind many restaurants [see story below] won't win any beauty contests, several Charlottesvillians say it's what's inside that counts. And what's inside is a cheap alternative to diesel fuel.

Earlier this year, Scott Wilcox, along with siblings Luke and Emily Scruby, rigged a 20-year-old green school bus to run on vegetable oil, and the trio set off on a cross-country adventure.

Although the fuel was free and the bus spewed fumes smelling something like a french-fry stand, the engine was the thing that fried. The bus, affectionately named Doris Cooper, sputtered to a halt somewhere in Missouri in early June, Wilcox says.

Even with a new fuel pump, the bus, its odometer registering seven digits, was stripped by her creators and towed away. And the trio headed back to Virginia with Doris's innovative and aromatic power plant packed in a rented U-Haul.

Just a few weeks later, the team retrofitted a 1976 Mercedes-Benz with a veggie-oil system. New car, same goal: make it across the continent to Alaska on recycled vegetable oil and one tank of diesel fuel.

Emily Scruby bailed out to pursue other interests, but six days, 4,000 miles, and one tank of diesel later, Wilcox and Luke Scruby made it to Alaska.

"We drove every road in Alaska," Wilcox says– "all of 'em."

The two pioneers made it all the way to the Arctic Circle, where grease is simply stored in five-gallon buckets and reused for bear bait.

With a successful trip and a young bio-diesel fuel-producing company in their future, Scruby, a UVA senior, and Wilcox, beginning his last year at Auburn University, have no intention of shifting gears.

"We're trying to switch more to education and research. Do some research into bio-diesel production," Wilcox says. "We're going to take it as far as we can go with it."

Luke and Emily Scruby and Scott Wilcox headed west in late May.