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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Rustbelt Revolutionaries

This past Friday morning, on my way back into town from a meeting out in Monroeville , I had an idea - I should swing through, Braddock, which is located in the heart of the steel valley, to check out a company that I had read about in Pittsburgh Magazine a few months back. I googled "Fossil Free Fuel" on my phone, and was able to pull up an address and phone number. The young man who answered my call, David Rosenstraus, told me to feel free to stop in to check out their shop located at 223 Braddock Ave.

As I drove down Braddock Ave I noticed US Steel's Edgar Thompson Steel Works (pictured above right) several blocks ahead. How fitting, I thought, that a local pioneer in the new green economy is located up the street from Andrew Carnegie's first steel plant.

Fossil Free Fuel is a small outfit that creates and installs biodiesel kits that burn Vegetable oil, was started in Buffalo New York back in 2004. After relocating to Allentown PA in 2005, the company moved once again in early 2007, this time just outside of the city of Pittsburgh after they were introduced to the mayor of Braddock by Steel City Biofuel's Nate Doyno .

As I approached their shop, I noticed a Mercedes Benz diesel automobile parked out front. The car, probably a model from the early to mid 1980's, had a decal in the back window that stated "This car runs off of 100% Vegetable Oil". Sweet, I thought.

As I stepped through the front door, and then the office door to the main work area, I could tell that the guys running the place were a couple of car gurus. Diesel engines on one side of the room, spare parts, machines, blow torches, and yes, several vehicles that were in the process of being converted to run on 100% vegetable oil.

So how do they do this? According to David, after initially using existing parts for their conversion kits, FFF started offering their own set of components, which include heat exchangers, fuel tanks, filters, hoses, fittings, pumps, and also the software that works with the on board computers. When it comes to the fuel side of the equation, FFF has a related entity that goes around to area restaurants to collect used vegetable oil. The oil is collected in large tanks affixed to one of their trucks and is then transported back to the shop where the oil is filtered to remove water and any food particles. This is a critical step in the process as not filtering used vegetable oil can lead to a severely damaged engine. You can read more about the specifics here at FFF's online FAQ

Here are some additional facts that I gathered during my talk with David:

  • An installation of FFF's conventional biodiesel fuel kit is $1500, and $2000 for a "main tank conversion."
  • The guys typically have 3 or 4 cars in the shop being worked on at a given time, with each conversion taking roughly 30 hours.
  • Most of the conversions are on vehicles that get sent to Fossil Free Fuels originate from outside the Pittsburgh area - most come from the NY, PA, NJ tri-state area.
  • FFF also ships kits to those who want to do the installations themselves
  • While some of the vehicles that come in for installations are the older Mercedes Benz Turbo Diesel models, a good number of the installations are done on some of the newer Mercedes and Volkswagons

Below: A Mercedes Benz diesel that was in the process of a FFF conversion

If you are thinking about removing yourself from the cycle of petroleum dependence, I encourage you to give the guys at Fossil Free Fuels a call to make an appointment to stop in. I am sure they will be busy at work but also more than happy to take some time to show you around and give you the

Fossil Free Fuel
223 Braddock Ave.
Braddock, Pa 15104


Below left: The computer that allows the driver to switch fuel tanks.
Below right: A newer Volkswagon model near completion

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Christopher....This is something that I am very interested in.....The gas prices are only going to get higher here in NYS ....We are the highest hit...NYS..ridiculous...What are the gas prices in PA now? I Love reading your blog...Interesting read.... Love Always Your Mom