By now, there are a lot of things that can fuel vehicles, and some people just do everything they can to be sustainable in order to conserve or restore the environment. To Leo Lauchere and Eric Gorski, running cars with old frying oil, cooking with gas produced from human waste, and using dishwater to grow food are simply the ways to do that.
For the last two years, the young entrepreneurs have been living in tiny homes on a small piece of land just outside of San Jose, where they hope to create an educational hub for sustainable living and ecological restoration.
The passion to find alternatives to live a sustainable life has grown in Lauchere ever since he was young. At 12 years old, he converted a lawnmower engine so it could run on biofuel for a science fair project. “I loved building. I would take apart remote control cars and put them back together in different combinations. I was making explosives in the garage and all kinds of stuff,” said Lauchere.
Additionally, as a teenager, Lauchere began selling scrap wood out of his parent’s property, before moving into an Airstream trailer he bought on Craigslist. What began as a side hustle eventually turned into Good News Wood Salvation, a lucrative wood repurposing business.
Then, he met Gorski, which is the CFO and owner of the company now. Gorski was building his own tiny house on a 32-foot semi-truck bed using reclaimed materials. The two gentlemen became friends instantly and they both came up with a plan to create an off-grid and self-sufficient community through the use of technology and permaculture.
For those of you who don’t know, permaculture is a form of sustainable landscape design which can be used to restore land depleted by overfarming and climate change. “We very much wanted to practice permaculture, so we started covering the soil immediately with wood chips and free mushroom compost,” said Lauchere.
Fueling old vehicles with waste frying oil
The pair of friends have also committed to making Good News Wood Salvation 100 percent free of fossil fuels by 2020. So far they have relied almost entirely on solar power and biofuels, which is considered to be a source of renewable energy because it is derived from easily replenishable plant or animal waste.
Lauchere has successfully converted his work truck, an old Mercedes, and a generator to run entirely on waste frying oil that he collects for free from local restaurants and businesses. He said he preferred converting old trucks to electric trucks, “I get that companies are coming out with new electric trucks, but making new trucks is not really necessary. Converting needs to be a huge thing.”
Around the pair’s property, there was a fully electric 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit waiting to be refitted with a repurposed Tesla battery, which they hope will eventually be charged by solar panels.
Furthermore, Lauchere has also devised a system for turning used vegetable oil into biodiesel, a process which includes filtering the substance so that it can power regular diesel engines. For now, though, to meet the demands of the business he routinely purchases ready-made biodiesel from a producer outside of Reno.
Other sustainable utilities
For basic hygiene, Gorski and Lauchere use a butane-powered shower, an on-site port-a-potty and a composting toilet. They hope to replace both toilets with their recently purchased “biodigester toilet”. It is a no-power system that turns human and organic waste into a natural gas that can be used for open-flame cooking.
Moreover, the pair wants to have a more sustainable improvement in terms of water sourcing. Currently, they source their water from an underground well connected to the grid. But in the future, they hope to collect rainwater to at least become somewhat self-sufficient.
Lauchere and Gorski reuse and recycle whenever possible, even down to their 12 solar panels, many of which they obtained at a discount because they were dented or cracked. They also source free materials from local farms and businesses whenever possible. “Almost every Home Depot has a dumpster full of plants,” said Gorski, who used to work for the hardware store.
“All of these tomato plants, pepper plants, squash plants, zucchini plants were from the dumpster. That lavender over there – dumpster,” said Lauchere happily as he gestured to a corner of the garden fence, which is also made from salvaged wood.
To water their small crop, they channel graywater straight into the garden via a 4-inch PVC pipe that connects to the sinks, the washing machine and eventually the shower. They use biodegradable soap to make sure the water is still usable for the plants.
When we go on a road trip, we’re going to need a lot of food. Namely, fast food. However, a pair of Florida high school students, Brian Lutton and Andrew Dowdell, took it to the next level. The two 17-year-olds retrofitted a 1985 Mercedes called “John” to run on used fast food oil and used vegetable oil.
After doing a total makeover of the car that took about two months, which includes installing a conversion kit to turn used cooking oil into usable fuel and spray painting the car, they drove the car around 9500km from Sarasota, Florida to the Canadian border.
The teenage pair sourced out potential donors and secured grease from Poppo’s Taqueria in Sarasota. And reportedly, the car smelled of hash browns, tacos, pinto beans, and quesadillas all the time. “The oil we used made the car smell like whatever was cooked in that oil,” said Lutton.
For the remainder of the trip, the pair mostly got fuel from Waffle Houses around the country and enjoyed the delicious smell of waffles and pancakes. Yum yum.
Sarasota Herald Tribune caught up with the teenage boys after their July road trip. The teens had help troubleshooting their vehicle thanks to a family friend who’d previously built race cars. Now, not every road trip is perfect, including this experimental one. The 17 year-olds stated that their trip was not without breakdowns, weird grease smells, and on-the-fly repairs.
After completing this trip, Lutton and Dowdell plan to use the antique Mercedes for the rest of the school year but are scheming to create a car retrofitted to run on electricity next summer.
Now, the smell of fast food is not bad, right? However, this can be a problem if you’re hungry and there’s no food around you. Other than that, sitting in that smell for multiple days straight would no doubt cause the oil scent to seep into your upholstery, your clothes, your pores, hair, everything. If you can’t handle these risks, then this type of fuel is not for you yet.