MooRocco and Crew at the 1999 Tour De Sol

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Autocross Cancelled, Rainy Conditions Frustrate Participants
Scott McGrath 05/25/2001

Participants of the Tour De Sol were disappointed Thursday when the Autocross and Drag race (typically the highpoints of the Tour) were cancelled due to rainy conditions in Greenfield.

"The Ethanol guys were really upset, since their vehicles were pretty much designed for the 1/4 mile and Autocross," remarked VTC team member "Disco" Vince Giffin, referring to the teams with trucks using clean-burning Ethanol as an alternative fuel. Giffin is acting as the team's NESEA volunteer, an important job assisting Tour officials with the critical administrative tasks of the Tour De Sol. These include marking the routes, organizing and directing set up and tear down of sites, and many other things.

Despite the undesirable conditions, Bill McGrath indicated that the team was in good spirits, and that goals of the event were still in sight.

"We're hanging in there; we've talked to a lot of folks, and we're definitely getting the message out that alternative fuels are here. We've also learned a lot about [alternative fuel] technologies ourselves, by talking to the others here."

The team has also been doing a significant amount of assisting the other teams, as they are known to do. When I arrived in Greenfield for a visit, the University of Maine team was replacing their drive motor under the VTC portable garage/canopy. Also, the VTC team donated some difficult-to-obtain connectors to a team from Wisconsin earlier in the week.

Latest scoring information is available on-line at

Greaseltron Was First Out of the Gate
Scott McGrath 05/24/2001

Thanks to extraordinary attention to detail, the Greaseltron was the first vehicle to roll over the starting line of the 2001 Tour De Sol. The Pole Position was attributed to a strong accumulation of administrative points during technical inspections. These include details such as having required safety equipment, rule-compliant construction of the vehicle, etc.

Another update from our team, currently in Greenfield, MA! Here's a summary of all the major events, on a daily basis until now:

  • Tuesday- The rental pickup truck (brand new!) broke down. It appears that it had a defective transmission. The rental company gave them a different truck.

  • Wednesday- A day of many frustrations. One of the batteries failed 10 miles into the day's leg, and had to tow the rest of the way. A slight penalty, but got another battery from another team.

    A delivery of biodiesel from our facility in Randolph arrived safely via Mr. Campo (Mel's father). Now running it in the truck, and it's much better than the other batch.

    In the process of constructing a "Mini-Greaseltron" replica for publicity.

    Weather is finally clearing up after about 2 days of rain. Rain can make conditions very difficult to work in!

    Displayed in North Albany with the NY Governor present. Got some parking tickets...

    For the first time during this year's tour, members ate Pizza and stayed in a hotel room.

  • Thurs- Made it Greenfield Ok, after a struggle up a 3000 foot mountain with the truck. Just about ran out of power- "If the hill had another 50 feet, would have had to pull over and wait for it to charge," remarked Bill McGrath. The Greaseltron apparently passed some other vehicles along the way with less luck.

    Today's display is at NESEA HeadQuarters, and will last 10 hours. Bill says, "This is the closest we'll be to home, and it's a good day to come and visit. There's lots of activities planned."

    Among them is the Autocross, a strenuous event to test the handling, acceleration, and overall drivability of the vehicles, at the Community College at 3:30pm.

    Despite Minor Issues, Things On Track For VTC Crew
    Scott McGrath 05/22/2001

    The latest report just came in from field contact and team member Jeff Laughlin, via e-mail from the Cyberian Cafe in Pittsfield. The highlights:

    • Pictures!

    • The homemade batch of bio-diesel they brought appears to have some issues... Not sure what the cause is at this point. However, mixing with a small amount of diesel and fuel additive has resulted in some record breaking performance from the generator- 95 amps! Previously, we've had difficulty getting more than 70 amps, which is insufficient to keep the truck's battery pack charged during travel.

    • The weather has been pretty good, despite a little bit of drizzling of late.

    In addition, we have many pictures that have been taken during the Tour thus far.

    "Overall things are good except from the mechanical issues. We're holdin' up!", said Laughlin, in summary.

    Tour De Sol Underway!
    Scott McGrath 05/21/2001

    Both groups (A and B) have left for the Tour De Sol. Bill Mcgrath advises that the truck passed tech testing first try, and got many administrative points- putting them in #1 Pole Position! He also mentioned that everyone there misses the MooRocco (VTC's entry for the last 2 years).

    Jeff Laughlin attempted to send some photos, but we are having some technical difficulties getting them here. We expect to have them up shortly. In the meantime, we have this article published by Mike Bianchi to reflect some of the real-time goings-on:

    TdS Report #42: Greaseltron

    Jared Harvey is from Vermont Technical College, Randolph Vermont. "Greasel is our name for biodiesel." We are taking old French-fries grease and turning into biodiesel fuel and soap. The 1990 Chevy S-10 pickup truck was donated to us by an electric company in Vermont. They had converted it to electric drive using lead acid batteries. We made the battery pack smaller and put the diesel generator on the bed in the back. The generator provides the average power, and the batteries add `umph' ((a technical term)) when you want it." The 120 Volts comes from 10 Optima yellow tops under the hood. A Curtis PMC controller drives an Advanced DC motor. "Your classic lead-sled truck conversion."

    The driver controls whether the generator is running. 3-cylinder Lombardini engine drives a generator that puts out 150 Volts at 600 Hertz, "which is easy to convert into DC. Changing the field current adjusts the power output. We are getting about 7 kiloWatts, although we are supposed to be able to produce 10. We are running into some problems when we try for that 10 kiloWatts; the engine starts to miss." The engine may just be too small or it may be a fuel problem.

    Speaking of fuel, do you really just collect left-over frying oil from restaurants? "In some cases, yeah! We pickup a couple gallons here and there from local restaurants and the cafeteria at school. We test the Ph and make sure it doesn't have animal fat. We want mostly cannola oil. We run it through a settling and filtering process. We add alcohol and lye in a big drum, stir it for an hour and sit for six hours." The result is 10% soap on the bottom and 90% fuel on the top. We drain the soap through a valve on the bottom.

    And what is the bible for using leftover cooking oil as fuel? "From the Frier to the Fuel Tank" by Joshua Tickell, available from, I'm told.

    "I'm in this project for the engineering. Other students are in it because they think it is great for the environment." The vehicle has only been converted in the past 6 months. It has driven it about 300 miles as a hybrid.

    The truck does have a battery charger for the traction pack, should the generator not be available, and some hybrid teams plug-in as well as use fuel. Others do not. Greaseltron's strategy? "We hope to run off the generator purely."

    The generator is pretty noisy when it starts. "The fuel line drains a bit when it sits, so it takes a moment to get the air out."

    Jared was on the "MooRocco" team that competed in the Tour in the past. Where is it now? "It's usually at Bill McGrath's house. He donated the car originally. It's getting into the retired state. It was a 1984 Scirocco, and it's hard to keep the frames good that long."

    - - - -
    The complete set of Tour de Sol Reports for 2001 can be found at:
    The complete set of past Tour de Sol Reports can be found at:
    - - - -
    The above is copyright Michael H. Bianchi. Permission to copy is granted provided the entire article is presented without modification and this notice remains attached. For other arrangements, contact me at +1-973-822-2024 .
    - - - -
    For more on the NESEA Tour de Sol, see the web page at
    - - - -
    Official NESEA Tour de Sol information is available from the sponsor,
    the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA) at
    413 774-6051 , and 50 Miles Street, Greenfield, MA 01301 , and . All media enquiries should be addressed to ...
    Jack Groh
    Groh Associates
    401 732-1551 telephone
    401 732-0547 fax
    401 952-0886 cell/pager

    Bill McGrath

    There's a smell of french fries in the air around Vermont Technical College this afternoon, but not from the cafeteria - it's from the exhaust of a vehicle powered by fuel made from recycled vegetable oil.

    A pumpkin-orange 1990 Chevrolet pickup truck, dubbed the "Greaseltron," employs a technology called a hybrid. The truck has been converted to run on electricity and a generator on the back of the truck creates electricity from a fuel called biodiesel. Biodiesel is a non-petroleum based diesel fuel replacement that the students make from waste oil donated by area restaurants. "We've been making this fuel for about a year now, and we've used it in the truck as well as in a home furnace quite successfully," said Donald Winans, President of the Alternative Energy Club at Vermont Technical College. Students built the truck to learn about the latest transportation technology as well as to compete in the Tour De Sol.

    The "Greaseltron" is the latest creation from VTC's Alternative Energy Club, and students are scurrying around preparing it for a road rally called "The Tour De Sol: The Great American Green Transportation Festival." The event showcases the latest "clean and green" transportation technologies, featuring entries from major auto manufacturers, government agencies, and private teams like VTC. This year's route goes from Waterbury, CT, to Boston, MA, via Albany, NY. Several stops along the route allow visitors to see the vehicles close up.

    In previous years, the club (formerly known as the Solar Car Club) has built and raced a vehicle powered by sunlight and electricity called the "MooRocco". It was a 1984 VW Scirocco famous for its white body and green cow spots.

    The rally begins Saturday, May 19, in Waterbury, CT. Details on the route and a schedule of stops are available at the club's website at: .

    Biodiesel fuel is made from vegetable oil, and can be used in diesel vehicles without modification. It can also be blended with diesel fuel in any proportion. It costs the students around $0.60 a gallon to make, but that doesn't take into account their labor. "It takes a little work to make it, but the end result is worth it," said Oliver Piluski, a student in the Electro-Mechanical program at VTC whose senior project was a small processor that makes biodiesel from vegetable oil unattended.

    The group is nervous about the upcoming event considering the timeline they've had to build their vehicle...they started in January. The next challenge for the team is the stringent technical tests done by rally organizers in Waterbury, CT on Saturday. The team will file a daily journal of events on their website at: .

    VTC Alternative Energy Club to Tour Greaseltron
    Scott McGrath 05/14/2001

    Excitement builds as the Vermont Technical College Alternative Energy Club prepares to launch their Biodiesel hybrid-electric pickup, dubbed the Greaseltron, into the NESEA Tour De Sol 2001. Be sure to check this page often for daily updates on the team's progress!

    Last Modified: Friday, May 25, 2001 by Scott McGrath