volume 1, issue 2
with Peter Fend
Appendix #3: Fat of the Land, 1995 - The Original Veggie Van/Lard Car. A documentary about fat and fuel produced by Nicole Cousino, Sarah Lewison, Julie Konop, Florence Dore and Gina Todus.
Fat of the Land
documents these women’s journey across America in their lard-powered
car. The video was edited and written by Nicole Cousino and Sarah
One long greasy skidmark across the asphalt of America!
The diesel engine was originally designed to allow a great deal of latitude as to what kinds of fuel it can burn. Rudolf Diesel, the engine's inventor, foresaw that one day petroleum supplies might run out; accordingly, he tested the engine with a range of fuels, including peanut oil. During WW2, the Germans used vegetable oils in their tanks when they were unable to procure petroleum due to embargos. Today's diesels can still be run on even straight vegetable oil, but precautions need to be taken so that the fuel injectors do not build up a sticky residue.
Biodiesel is any substitute for diesel fuel that is made from any biomass material that contains fat. It can be made from vegetable oils of all sorts, and even coconut oil, lard and suet. It can be used directly in a diesel engine without worries about injector clogging. Biodiesel is made by combining the grease with a catalytic ‘cracker’ made with a combination of lye and methanol or ethanol.
We learned how to make biodiesel by talking to scientists and chemists over the telephone and then we experimented a lot. At the time we made our cross country journey, there were only a couple of commercial producers and a handful of amateur chemists like us. Now there are many more. While we don't see fat as the ideal solution to energy needs, it is crucial that we support independent producers whose production has direct economic benefits in their communities. We forsee a day when lobbyists for corporate energy monopolies will pressure authorities to shut independent production down.
In Fat of the Land, we focus our experiments on the use of wasted grease procured from restaurants around the country. These fats have value to animal farmers, but their needs fluctuates with the market. In some places these fats are simply tossed out creating noxious landfill problems. These greases have a higher acidity than fresh oils, thus they require a higher degree of lye in the recipe- even so, they are a more efficient fuel than fresh oils, which take a large amount of energy to produce at the level of the farm and refinery.
The diesel is a dirty engine, but biodiesel is a far cleaner fuel to burn than petroleum based diesel. Most important, as biodiesel is made from fresh biomass, the burning of biodiesel does not contribute to the build-up of carbons in the atmosphere.
Fat of the Land was produced in part as a way to communicate about the development and exchange of autonomous local economies that will not be dependent upon the negativities of international politics and warfare. We did not develop this technique; we merely salvaged it out of the wastebin of history.