B.C. man builds mobile home fuelled by vegetable oil, solar power

A British Columbia man is planning to hit the road on a cross-country adventure, fuelled by waste vegetable oil and powered by the sun.

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Dustin Bowers says he and his girlfriend, Kylie Hayward, are in the final stages of renovating a Blue Bird school bus that will become their new mobile, eco-friendly home.

Dustin Bowers renovates school bus

The couple has been working on the vehicle for the past three months, Bowers said in a telephone interview with CTVNews.ca from near Nelson, B.C., and they officially moved into the space three weeks ago.

A carpenter by trade, Bowers has installed hardwood floors in the bus and wooden cabinets that hang over the living space. He built a small kitchen, complete with a propane stove, propane electric fridge, and a sink with cold running water. There's also a futon bed tucked behind the driver's seat, and a small table flanked by two cushioned seats.

For decorative touches, Bowers and Hayward placed a mock tiger-skin rug across the floor, put a potted plant on the kitchen counter and strung blue lights up along the cabinets.

Kylie Hayward in school bus

Outside of the living space, Bowers has rigged up a fuel system that will allow him to power the bus on waste vegetable oil leftover from deep fryers and restaurants, and he's in the process of installing solar panels.

When that's done, Bowers said, he hopes to live out a lifelong dream: travelling across the country and performing fire dance routines, as part of his own environmentally-friendly "travelling circus."

It isn't the first time Bowers has opted to travel on alternative fuel.

He was first inspired to switch to vegetable oil four years ago, he said. At the time, he was living in New Brunswick and a friend from B.C. came to visit, driving all the way across the country in a waste-vegetable-oil fuelled car.

"That kind of caught my attention. I was really keen on it," Bowers said.

Intrigued by the process, he did some online research and bought his own diesel vehicle. Then, he began testing waste vegetable oil in the engine.

"The first year was a big learning curve for me. I got a lot of grease on my hands," Bowers said, with a laugh.

At first, Bowers said he tried spooning the oil up with a large scoop and pouring it into buckets and through paint filters before trying to funnel it into the engine.

But with time, he developed his own system of hoses, filters and a secondary tank.

Since buying his first diesel vehicle, Bowers said he's been across Canada twice, and come to love the eco-friendly and cost-efficient method of fuelling up with vegetable oil. On his last trip from New Brunswick to B.C., he says he spent only $150 on fuel.

"Waste vegetable oil is an awesome way to travel," he said. "My gas pump is now any local restaurant."

Waste vegetable oil controls

Waste vegetable oil as an alternative to diesel

Vegetable oil has long been used in diesel engines, University of Toronto Mechanical Engineering Professor Murray J. Thomson told CTVNews.ca.

In fact, Thomson said, the inventor of the diesel engine actually used vegetable oil to fuel his own vehicle.

"Mr. (Rudolf) Diesel himself, a hundred years ago or more, originally ran the engine on vegetable oil." Thomson said.

According to Thomson, plant-based fuels such as vegetable oil are more environmentally friendly than regular diesel oil.

"You're using a biofuel, so therefore there are no fossil carbon emissions," he said. "From a greenhouse gas point of view … It takes in the same amount that it gives off. "

However, Thomson warned that vegetable oil isn't a perfect solution.

For one thing, he said, there just isn't enough of it to power every vehicle and home in Canada.

"There's lots of diesel consumed in Canada per year, but the amount of waste fat is a very small amount," Thomson said.

The other problem is that waste vegetable oil's thickness can wear down an engine faster than regular diesel.

Because of this, Thomson suggests using biodiesel, a fuel made by breaking down vegetable oil so that it flows more easily.

Dustin Bower's school bus

Getting on the road

But Bowers is enthusiastic about vegetable oil, and says he knows he's inspired at least two other friends to use the fuel in their own vehicles.

Now, with his bus ready to run on the alternative fuel, Bowers says he just needs to finish installing the solar panels and buy a charge controller to prevent the panels from overcharging their batteries.

To fund the final steps of the project and help launch his cross-country dreams, Bowers has set up a GoFundMe page, where he's hoping to raise $3,000.

Once that's complete, he and Hayward are ready to take off.

Bowers, who already performs fire dances, says their first stop will be on the west coast, where they'll train with other circus performers. Then, they plan to depart for Montreal, where they'll meet with another performance group to develop a routine.

And on the way, they'll live out of the bus, which they've named the "Indigo Phoenix," a riff on "Blue Bird," and try to keep their environmental footprint as small as possible.

"I see the state of our world and the state of our environment now and I think it's important that each one of us take the steps to try and make the world a little better," he said. "If each of us use a little less, that'll solve the world problems a lot quicker than world leaders arguing with each other."


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