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The Great Biofuel Race
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An adventurous pack of biofuels enthusiasts will set out today for a 4,500 mile (7,242 kilometer) car rally from the United States to Central America. The Greaseball Challenge is designed to promote sustainable biofuels—including biodiesel, ethanol, vegetable oil, and recycled restaurant grease—and benefit local grassroots environmental projects. Participants will visit a variety of bioenergy projects and businesses along the way, including Combustibles Ecológicos, a Guatemala-based organization dedicated to the study and production of biofuels, Grupo Energéticos, a Mexican energy company that produces biodiesel, and Technoserve, an organization that helps poor people in the developing world create business opportunities.

Each of the rally’s five teams has purchased a vehicle “on a shoestring budget” and converted it to run on biofuels. Participants will fuel their vehicles from different sources along the way, including biodiesel producers, diners, fast-food outlets, and farms. The use of standard gasoline and other fossil fuels will be allowed only in emergencies along the entire route from Washington, D.C., through Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. All the vehicles will be donated in the destination countries to raise money for local environmental projects.

Worldwatch Institute biofuels project manager Suzanne Hunt is joining the expedition alongside Jean-Philippe Denruyter, bioenergy director for WWF in Brussels. The team, traveling under the name Grease Lightning, will drive a 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit truck with 240,000 miles under its belt, 20,000 of them on waste vegetable oil. “This was an irresistible chance to get out in the field and visit different types of projects and meet the people who are pioneering these sustainable energy initiatives,” Hunt says. The team will be updating a blog regularly while on the road.

The event is organized by Greaseball Challenge LLC, which has been active in several charity car rallies in recent years. In 2004 and 2005, members participated in the Plymouth-Banjul Challenge from the United Kingdom to Africa, driving an ice cream van across the Sahara and raising funds for tsunami relief. In 2006, they organized the Busman’s Holiday, traveling from the UK to Chechnya to deliver a gymnasium floor to a troupe of Chechen dancers.

More Resources:

Worldwatch Institute: Renewable Energy

Alana Herro writes for Eye on Earth (e²), a service of World Watch Magazine in partnership with the blue moon fund. e² provides a unique perspective on current events, newly released studies, and important global trends.

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