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On Earth Day, fuel for thought

The Science Channel's `Cool Fuel' takes a quirky look at alternative sources of energy.

April 22, 2006|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

Add a new name to the list of telegenic Aussies: Shaun Murphy.

No, not another crocodile hunter. Nor a shrimp-on-the-barbie shill for the tourism industry Down Under.

Rather, Murphy is the star of a quirky, engaging documentary "Cool Fuel," airing tonight on the Science Channel.

If you like watching "This Old House," reading Popular Mechanics or tinkering in the garage with needed inventions, this is the one documentary precisely for you.

The setup is this: Murphy and his dog, Sparky, are on a quest across America to find folks using alternative fuels: cow manure, hot rocks, sugar cane, water, corn whiskey, garbage, wind, grass, you name it.

Along the way he meets, in classic on-the-road fashion, a list of American characters: a guy who built a motorcycle to run on electric power, the owner of an aging VW, a homeowner with a mini-hydroelectric plant in his backyard, and a rap-singing bio-fuel supplier known as the Ayatollah Granola of Canola.

Even the famed Naked Cowboy of Manhattan does a walk-on as Murphy and Sparky cruise Times Square and Wall Street.

With gas prices soaring, the timing of "Cool Fuel" could not be better.

Murphy has just the right touch of goofy earnestness, and Sparky, well, he's the lovable mutt everybody remembers from childhood.

It's not heavy science, or science as politics. It's a lighthearted look at a heavy-hearted subject: our hostage relationship with the oil producers, foreign and domestic.

The editing is tight, and photography of the American landscape is gorgeous. In tone, it has a generous, optimistic spirit, not the hectoring, doomsday approach of other documentaries on the same topic.

In Colorado, Murphy drops in on actress Daryl Hannah, a dedicated environmentalist. She extols the virtues of a soybean-fueled truck.

"We also run all of our ranch vehicles from veggie oil," she says.

Enough said?


`Cool Fuel'

Where: Science Channel

When: 8 to 10 tonight

Ratings: TV-G (suitable for all ages)

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