Pubdate: Fri, 06 Jul 2001
Source: New Haven Register (CT)
Copyright: 2001, New Haven Register


When this 1985 Mercedes Turbo Diesel drives into New Haven, a hint of an 
illegal odor may follow in its wake. But don't get the wrong idea.

This car, fueled entirely by oil derived from hemp seeds, won't give you 
the munchies.

The car is traveling throughout the United States and Canada as a part of a 
campaign to increase awareness for both the efficiency of biodiesel fuels 
and the usefulness of hemp in producing fuels.

The trip began July 4 in Washington, D.C., and will cover 10,000 miles 
across the United States and Canada. The New Haven Free Public Library is 
bringing the car to the New Haven Green on Monday, from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Don Swearingen of Apple Energy of Ohio, a company that processes hemp seeds 
into fuel, sees biodiesel as the energy source of the future, citing it as 
the only truly renewable energy source.

"Biodiesel is a given, it's going to happen," said Swearingen.

Proponents of biodiesel view its renewable properties as one of its most 
positive aspects. "If we planted six percent of America with hemp, we could 
meet all of America's transportation and energy demands," said Kellie Sigler.

Sigler is the co-founder of the hemp car project, along with her husband 

According to Seth Godfrey, a reference librarian at the New Haven Free 
Public Library, the car's visit fits well with past programs at the 
library, including its recent exhibit on banned books. "It's important to 
tackle controversial topics," said Godfrey.

In the U.S., hemp growers must obtain a permit from the federal Drug 
Enforcement Agency in order to legally grow the plant, and even that is 
only for research purposes.

Permits have been issued only twice, according to a spokesman for the DEA.

Hemp contains a dozen chemically related compounds called 
tetrahydrocannabinols, or THC. Only a few produce the psychotropic effects 
of marijuana, said Lisa Sump, associate director of pharmacy services at 
Yale-New Haven Hospital.

These active THCs are presumably extracted from the seeds before they are 
used as fuel, she said. "Hemp" is the same plant as marijuana, although it 
might be a different strain, Stamp said. Hemp therefore would naturally 
produce all of the chemicals found in marijuana, she said.

Hemp used as fuel is grown mainly in Canada, said Swearingen. He uses 
imported sterilized seeds to produce his fuel, which is legal in the U.S.

The Union of Concerned Scientists in Berkeley, Calif., said it had no 
official position on the use of hemp for fuel.

Using waste products however, such as the vegetable oil in fryers, "makes 
the most environmental sense," said Jason Marks of the group, since you are 
recycling, as well as producing a clean fuel.

He referred to the adventure of two women who traveled across the United 
States using the grease from McDonald's restaurants to fuel their car.

Marks said soybeans are most likely to be used for this kind of fuel in 
America, but biodiesel holds close to zero percent of the market. "It just 
emerging as a viable energy option," Marks said.

Typically, the car has been met with a positive response in its preliminary 
voyages to New York City and Washington, D.C., according to Kellie Sigler.

Biodiesel fuel is one of the cheapest fuels available, with manufacturing 
costs hovering around 50 cents to 60 cents per gallon, Swearingen said.

The fuel is also very clean when it burns, emitting 90 percent fewer 
carcinogens than gasoline fuels, he added.

The cost gets bigger because of taxes and the fees of middlemen, Swearingen 

"Any 10-year-old can make biodiesel fuel with supervision," he said.

Like others involved with the project, Swearingen hopes to see some 
positive effect come of this trip further down the road.

"Ten-thousand miles is an awful lot of visibility," said Swearingen. "It's 
going to wake people up."
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