Iowa City native makes his own diesel fuel


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After working at the Hamburg Inn No. 2 for 25 years, "slaving away" over a hot stove, Fugate said he was ready for a change.

He started a family and began growing increasingly concerned about the world his children were going to grow up in.

"He is somebody who is looking beyond his own life and trying to make life better for his kids and future generations," said Rich Dana, a colleague of Fugate's at the Yoderville Biodiesel Collective. "I think he approaches renewable energy as a moral obligation."

For years, the Iowa City native kept a garden, drove a diesel vehicle, recycled, and purchased local food.

And since 2003, the 46-year-old has created his own diesel fuel on his farm near Wellman from used cooking oil.

"I learned how to by poking around on the Internet," he said. "We wanted to make it ourselves and also make it very efficiently and environmentally safe."

His farm is efficient. For every unit of energy put into petroleum — what most people use to fill up — results in 0.8 units of work energy. But Fugate said from every single unit of energy put into the production of biodiesel, he gets 12 units of work energy.

Fugate is able to attain this level of ultra efficiency because of measures he takes at his farm to increase sustainability. He captures rainwater from his roof and mounted solar thermal panels to create heat for his fuel-making process.

Creating his own fuel is a labor-intensive process. And despite getting the cooking oil for free from local food producers, it ends up costing about the same as a gallon of diesel fuel from a gas station after adding taxes and labor costs.

Despite there not being a difference in the price, Fugate said he thinks there are ecological and public health benefits.

"For every gallon of this biodiesel fuel burned in an area with bad air quality, we save $3 per gallon in avoided health-care costs," he said.

Eric Foresman, an energy-efficiency engineer and member of the Iowa Renewable Energy Association, said the inconvenient process of converting cooking oil is a barrier to some people.

"Doing all the work that it takes to build local relationships, it hasn't caught on because it's a lot of work to wake up at 5 and collect oil from restaurants at 5 in the morning after they've cleaned out their fryers," Foresman said.

But Fugate said it's worth the work.

"We're doing our best to make something that is really making a big difference from an emissions standpoint," Fugate said. "If we can do this from something that is just lying around unused, why not do it? We make the effort, but it's a lot of work."

But according to others, Fugate's passion extends past sustainability efforts. In fact, Foresman said that after Hurricane Katrina, Fugate collected donations and drove down to New Orleans.

"If there is something that needs to be done, there is nothing that will stop him from alleviating any problem," Foresman said. "He is just a really inspiring person."

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