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Student beats gas prices with vegetable oil-driven Mercedes

A Dakota Wesleyan University student recently completed an 1,800-mile journey from his Oregon home to Mitchell and spent only $10 for diesel fuel.

John "Dylan" Moro, 25, of Joseph, Ore., drives a 1976 Mercedes, converted to run primarily on vegetable oil he receives from a local restaurant. Although it takes gallons of strained oil -- which he gets from Culver's -- Moro said the payback comes in the form of money saved at traditional fuel pumps.

"This car runs on cheaper fuel and it is 30 percent cleaner for the environment," he said. "I get the dirty grease and can use it not only for another good process, but also could help the economy down the road."

Gas prices are the problem, Moro said. This week, the price for a gallon of regular unleaded gas in South Dakota is $3.71. For diesel, it's even higher, at $4.11.

He said if consumers find alternative modes of transportation, it will lessen the need for oil and if enough people do that, it could help bring the prices down.

"It is nice to see more people riding Mopeds and bikes," Moro said. "People are more conscious about their driving efforts, which might bring the oil prices down if there is not such a big demand for it."

To fuel his Mercedes, Culver's donates the filtered grease to Moro on a weekly basis. Instead of Culver's allowing Moro to pump the grease in the back of the restaurant, Culver's now drains the grease into five-gallon buckets for him to pick up twice a week.

"I was looking for some kind of source for grease and a lot of restaurants didn't understand the process," he said. "The other restaurants said there were liability issues in giving their grease, except for Culver's.

"The manager said he had heard about these kind of vehicles, so when I approached him he didn't have a problem with it and was obliged to help."

The grease that Moro uses must be filtered to keep his vehicle from sustaining any problems. According to a vegetable fuel systems Web site, the process separates the water, food particles and hydrogenated oils from the oil being used as fuel.

Although Moro enjoys his "grease mobile" and says he probably will not purchase a "normal" car again, he does say it can be a hassle.

"The filtering process is a drawback," said Moro. "Especially in the winter time, I have to do a good job of purging and solidifying the grease in the engine."

And there's just one more problem. Whenever he drives the Mercedes, Moro has a constant reminder of where the oil comes from.

"You tend to get hungry when you drive the Mercedes because it smells like french fries," he said.