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Cumberland teen turns car into veggie oil-burning machine

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Cumberland teen turns car into veggie oil-burning machine

CUMBERLAND — Luke Booth no longer groans when gas prices rise.

Early this summer the 17-year-old Greely High School senior installed a device onto his 2000 Volkswagen Jetta that allows the vehicle to run not just on diesel fuel, but on vegetable oil. He's been getting the liquid inexpensively – sometimes at no cost.

And it doesn't even smell like a restaurant if you are driving with him or in the car behind him.

Booth had been driving a large Jeep when gas was significantly expensive, lamenting the fact that he was paying about $50 a week in fuel for a vehicle that got only about 16 miles to the gallon.

"He'd work and all his money went towards gas," said Luke's mother, Amy Booth.

Booth said he was also feeling guilty about the adverse impact on the environment that his SUV and other guzzlers were creating.

"He kept complaining," his mother said, "but then he decided to do something about it."

The timing was perfect. Booth's uncle, Joel Richardson, is an investor in Maine Biofuel, a business in Portland that manufactures alternative fuels, like vegetable oil, which costs about $1 a gallon.

"So he told me about it, and it sounded like a good idea," Booth said.

The teenager sold his Jeep to his parents, Amy Booth said, after he convinced them the savings he would reap would justify the new vehicle and vegetable fuel investment. Booth bought a used Jetta that runs on diesel and ordered a kit from Greasecar Vegetable Fuel Systems that he and his father, Rodney Booth, used to modify the Volkswagen.

The system, which sits in the trunk, took about 15 or 20 hours to install and cost about $800.

"It was pretty expensive, but it was worth it," Booth said.

He now pays about $30 every three or four weeks for fuel. Diesel is the major expense, costing about the same as regular fuel. The vehicle holds 15 gallons of diesel and 15 gallons of vegetable oil, and it gets about 45 miles to the gallon. 

He runs his car initially on diesel fuel to warm it up, then hits a button to smoothly go to grease after about two miles. Booth will also have to set up a room in the barn with a space heater to keep the engine warm. Otherwise, the vegetable fuel will congeal.

Along with obtaining the fuel from his uncle, Booth is getting donations from the Foreside Tavern in Falmouth.

"They just think it's a cool project that a kid did, that they want to support it," Amy Booth said.

Booth gets the oil after it has been used for cooking, and he filters it to extract food residue.

According to Greasecar, vegetable oil-producing plants absorb more carbon dioxide from the air during their growing cycle than what is released when the oil is burned. As a result, vegetable oil does not produce excess carbon dioxide into the atmosphere

And it all happens without that restaurant odor.

"Actually, it doesn't smell any different (than normal fuel burning)," Booth said. "I thought it would, but it didn't."

Booth, who has captained both the soccer and ski teams at Greely, is part of the Global Awareness Club at school. His friends make him drive everywhere now, too.

"The kids love that car," Amy Booth said. "They all want to want to drive that car. It seems as though maybe, just by doing this, he's getting the word out (about environmentally-friendly fuels) to these kids."

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.