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SUNDAY BRUNCH

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September 21, 1997|CONNIE KOENENN

Prices at the gas pump started rising as Joshua and Kaia Tickell crossed the country this summer in their 20-foot motor home, but it didn't faze them. When they stopped for a fill-up it was not at a service station, but at a McDonald's or Kentucky Fried Chicken.

The Tickells, 21, were driving the Veggie Van, a 3-ton Winnebago splashed with yellow daisies and retrofitted to run on used cooking oil. And two solar panels on its roof power the electric lights, refrigerator and computer in their living quarters. Getting 25 miles to the gallon, it's a rolling recycling exhibit.

"We're environmental educators," explained Joshua during a stop in L.A. on the last leg of the trip. "Using vegetable oil as a fuel is not a new idea. Rudolf Diesel, who invented the diesel engine, originally designed the engine to run on peanut oil." Most important, he added, vegetable-based fuels (known as biodiesel) pollute less than petroleum-based fuels.

The Tickells were towing the Green Grease Machine, a trailer housing the hodgepodge of equipment used to convert grease into a clean fuel by mixing it with alcohol and a lye catalyst for a separation process.

The couple built the machine for a science project at New College in Sarasota, Fla., where the test-drive began. "We've gotten nothing but favorable response," Kaia said. "And we're amazed that we're getting up to 5,000 hits a day on our Web site [http://www.veggievan.org]."

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