Fried fuel 

A man. A musician. A mission to save the world.

To understand why Rob del Bueno goes around to restaurants asking for their used grease, you first have to know how he feels about George W. Bush.

As is the case with most 31-year-olds who make a living playing and recording louder-than-shit music, del Bueno -- aka Coco, the bassist for Man or Astro-man? and owner of Zero Return Studios -- hates the president. Hates Bush's going-war-to-get-oil-for-all-his-rich-butt-buddies ass.

"I try not to talk about it, but I can't help it sometimes. I was at this party the other night and I could hear this conversation going on about Bush and about the war and the dependency on foreign oil. And I just couldn't help it.

"I went over there and said, 'Do you drive a car?' The guy said, 'Well, uh, yeah.' I say, 'Then shut up!' People whine and bitch about the war and Bush, but they don't do anything about it. They just whine."

Del Bueno is doing something about it, DIY punk style.

He's turning spent restaurant grease into a fuel that runs in any diesel engine. It's easy, it's cheap, and it fits the same screw-the-man-I'll-do-it-my-own-damn-self mentality that led del Bueno to build one of Atlanta's busiest independent recording studios out of two enormous shipping containers.

Right now, del Bueno's operation is underground. He makes enough of the fuel, called biodiesel, for his car and six customers. He pushes his product to his friends and fans. The Man or Astro-man? website has this little plug on its main page: "Ever want to tell Bush, and the big oil companys to fu*k off?!... well check out Coco's latest endeavor ... It called Biodiesel, and there is a lot going on with it. get on board!"

But Coco/del Bueno has a much larger plan. He wants more than just a fleet of subversive punk-powered vehicles on the streets of Atlanta. He wants to be the father of Atlanta's biodiesel industry.

If he's successful, and it's looking as if he just might be, he'll clean up Atlanta's air, reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil, and give Georgia farmers a better boost than any lame-ass Farm Aid show ever did.

That's why we're on the road, hurtling south down I-75 in a 1974 Mercedes-Benz, with a standard diesel engine, toward a meeting with none other than ex-Prez Jimmy Carter. And behind us, there's not the signature black cloud of your typical diesel, only the smell of the Earl's yummy French fries.For some reason, that must have something to do with the anti-authority and free-spirited nature of rock 'n' roll, many key players in the story of biodiesel are musicians -- successful ones at that.

For example, the guy who turned del Bueno on to the biodiesel movement is Paul Sprawl, the winner of last year's Eddie's Attic Open-Mic Shootout. Sprawl, a blues/folk musician from California, won a thousand bucks cash and two days of free recording at Zero Return Studios.

Sprawl hasn't recorded there yet, but when he checked out the studio last winter, he told del Bueno about Jaia Suri, a musician who tours in a truck that had been converted to run off of vegetable oil.

Suri, and everyone else who tours the country with nothing but a guitar, a dream and a trunk full of grease, got the down-low on veggie fuel through From the Fryer to the Fuel Tank, a book by Joshua Tickell. Tickell, who isn't a musician but sure toured like one, rode across the country six years ago in a Winnebago fueled by grease donated by restaurants. (Just guess what he called the van. Now, it's a van fueled by used vegetable grease. If you didn't guess "the Veggie Van," then you're likely working in the White House.)

Tickell started his journey in Florida with a tankful from Long John Silver's, and ended it in California five months later. The dozens of news articles chronicling his trip in the Veggie Van marked the beginning of the biodiesel movement.

By now you're probably wondering how it is that vegetable-based fuels can power an engine built to run on a petroleum product. Time for a real quick history lesson.

When Rudolph Diesel unveiled his engine at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1900, it wasn't powered by the lie that is so-called "diesel fuel." It burned peanut oil.

After Diesel's death in 1913, oil industry executives figured out that his engine also could run on a byproduct of gasoline distillation. How convenient. The diesel was quickly co-opted by gasoline producers and now runs almost exclusively on their cheaper, incredibly dirtier, petroleum-based fuel.

It was easy for the oil companies. They were the ones that already had pumps on every street corner. Wait a minute. Actually, they're the ones that own the trucks and pipelines, the refineries and the bazillions of gas stations all over the world. And then there are the people who own most of the oil fields in the Middle East -- they love it that Americans buy SUVs that get shitty gas mileage. But they don't necessarily love Americans, do they? N-o-o-o. Not to mention those guys in the White House and their fondness for oil companies, and Iraq, and Haliburton's $2 billion contract, and Dick Cheney and blah blah blah.



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