Biodiesel: fuel for thought

Fuel director Josh Tickell hopes to spread the word that America’s dependence on foreign oil can be wiped out if the U.S. learns to use other oil sources, like biodiesel.
Fuel director Josh Tickell hopes to spread the word that America’s dependence on foreign oil can be wiped out if the U.S. learns to use other oil sources, like biodiesel.

By Andrew Brown
Josh Tickell and Rebecca Harrell are amongst the leading voices in the campaign for green energy. Just don’t call them environmentalists.

Allow Tickell to explain: “The danger of saying that I’m an environmentalist is that everybody immediately has a picture of what that means. People classify the environmental movement as a reactionary one. Activism in and of itself is something that can be proactive. So I would say I’m an activist.”

Tickell and Harrell brought their proactive message to Rider on Oct. 21 as a part of the ESSC’s Green Film Series. The couple spoke about the points discussed in their film Fuel, which won the Audience Award at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.

The film focuses on alternative fuel sources and sustainability.

Biodiesel is essentially the star of Fuel. Tickell has been a huge supporter of biodiesel since 1997, when he began driving a van powered by used frying oil obtained from fast food restaurants.

Though he has long been sold on biodiesel as the solution, others have been less certain. In 2008, there was a major media backlash against biofuel. There were countless stories claiming that biofuels would cause a world food shortage. Tickell believes that it was oil companies who fanned this fire.

“The oil companies and the standard industries were able to parlay the frenzy around the food shortage into an anti-biofuels backlash,” Tickell said.

Harrell adds that in 2008 there were 170 biodiesel plants in the U.S. There are now fewer than 10. She laments that this “smear campaign” has been quite a setback, but they have come through it without sustaining too much damage. In fact, they’ve received more donations from corporate America. Corporate support is very important to the pair, as they believe corporations will eventually drive the green movement in America, rather than the government.

“The president didn’t have to come out and support the iPod,” he said. “It was just so usable, so cool, and so well-marketed that it was instantaneously ubiquitous. So I think we’re going to start seeing these kinds of technologies emerge in the green industry. They’ll just be so cool and advanced that people will have to have them. It’ll be demand-driven.”

The couple are in possession of an item that has created quite a bit of demand itself: the Algaeus. The Algaeus is a state-of-the-art Prius with a plug allows it to charge overnight. As the name would suggest, it also runs on algae-based fuel. Toyota has spoken at length with the couple about mass-producing the car, which gets 150 miles per gallon. The demand is certainly there.

However, the couple insist that it’s the little things that really add up. College students in particular are in a unique position to help the green cause. Harrell encouraged Rider students to take a bold stance for the environment.

“College students can do so much,” she insists. “You can rally people and demand for the campus to make changes. You can rally to eliminate the use of plastic, to install solar or wind power. There are so many things that can be done. The question is where to start.”

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