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Teenager To Hit The Road In His 'Green Machine'

The Associated Press Staff
Published:   |   Updated: March 24, 2013 at 02:38 AM

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SARASOTA -

First he bought a 1980 diesel Mercedes station wagon and converted it to run on vegetable oil.

Now, after persuading restaurant owners across America to draw from their deep fryers for him, 18-year-old Colin Coon is ready to hit the road.

Coon, a senior at the private New Gate School, has been coordinating his trip for the past year and hopes that the "green machine," as he calls it, will become a sort of exhibit of the power of alternative energy as he drives it through 20 U.S. towns from Feb. 28 through April 18.

"I would say I'm not as passionate about making the Earth a greener place as much as I'm passionate about finding new opportunities to produce energy," Coon said. "I'm more of an engineering hippie than an actual hippie.

"The thing that fascinates me is that we have all these opportunities for natural energy and we're still using fossil fuels."

Coon bought the car in Kansas, sparking a senior project that has taken on a life of its own.

Since then, he has taken on sponsors and raised $6,000 for travel costs. He anticipates the total investment in the adventure will be about $8,500.

"This senior project is a chance for him to start giving back based on what he's learned so far," said Paul Wenninger, the head of New Gate School. "I think we underestimate young people sometimes. Our job is to give them a sense of their own power and potential in the world."

Coon's route will take him through Atlanta, Nashville, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Dallas, among other cities.

"The car will have logos from all my sponsors on it, and I'm hoping people will look at the blue car and wonder what it's about," Coon said. "I'm going to show people I can go to all these different places on vegetable oil."

Sponsors include Carpet Mill Direct Sales, Greasecar Vegetable Fuel Systems and all manner of restaurants along the route that have volunteered to pitch in oil for his engine.

Friends and family will accompany him on some stretches of the journey.

Taking on an endeavor like this was not a big stretch for Coon.

A fixer-upper kind of guy, he has been working on cars with his father since the age of 6, and intends to major in aerospace or mechanical engineering in college.

The work on the car was not as difficult as most people seem to think, Coon said.

"You don't have to have a Ph.D. or anything," he said. "I mean, I'm 18 and I did it over the course of a weekend."

However, the modification required hours of Internet research on how-to sites, installing a fuel conversion kit in the car, collecting vegetable oil from local restaurants and then properly filtering it.

He learned that any diesel engine can run on biodiesel, and that most laymen with a knack for mechanics could make the switch-over.

Coon called businesses nationwide asking for oil donations.

At each stop, he will add a few more gallons to his stockpile in the trunk.

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