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Saving the world with a french-fry car

by Sara Chahrour August 28, 2018 0 comment
Saving the world with a french-fry car

Repurposing waste vegetable oil for fuel could save the environment

Randy Lidstone, or the guy with the french-fry car, as some of his colleagues call him, is a passionate environmentalist with one objective: “To make the world a better place than when [he] got here.”

For over eight years, colleagues knew Lidstone to drive a Volkswagen converted to run on waste vegetable oil (WVO) from the cafeteria of Pratt and Whitney Canada, where he has been working for the past 37 years. Lidstone’s modified engine produces 79 per cent less carbon dioxide and zero nitrogen oxide compared to diesel.

Every day after work, Lidstone would stop at the cafeteria to collect the leftover vegetable oil that would usually be thrown away at the end of day. He would take it home, strain and filter it, then feed it to his WVO converted car.

“Those who were interested thought it was cool, those who didn’t thought it was messy. I thought it was great for the environment,” said Lidstone.

Lidstone discovered his love for the environment at a very early age. When he was in elementary school, he would reuse the same paper lunch bag every day for a month to save trees. As Lidstone grew older, his passion grew with him. Today, he is a proud sustainable development focal (or SD focal) at Pratt and Whitney Canada.

SD focals are a team of 18 employees that set a good example of ways to help the environment. They also pilot their own projects to help attain the company’s 2020 sustainability goals, which include reducing water consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and eliminating hazardous substances.

Lidstone’s french-fry car journey began with a 1981 Mercedes 300SD that he drove for five years before moving on to his 2002 Jetta TDI. With his Jetta, Lidstone travelled nearly 5000 kilometres with only $65 of diesel fuel, saving him thousands of dollars every year. Although saving money was not the purpose behind converting his cars, it was definitely a bonus.

“Many were intrigued on how my engine worked without diesel, but it didn’t.” Lidstone explained that his car relied on diesel both when the engine was first turned on and shut off. Antifreeze would warm up the WVO, and with the flip of a switch, the car ran on that. “In order for a WVO [car] to be used,” he explained, “the engine has to be modified because the oil is too viscous for the engine to process. A biodiesel converter is installed in the engine to reduce the viscosity.”

Whether he is eating at a restaurant, walking through crowded streets or sitting behind his desk, Lidstone always has an eye out for new ways to save the environment.

“One day I was sitting in a restaurant and the waitress asked me if I wanted a straw with my drink. I responded ‘why offer plastic straws if you could have paper straws?’”

According to Lidstone, the key to influencing others is to simply give them food for thought, encourage them to take a step back and look at their actions.

As an SD focal, Lidstone suggested the use of compostable plastic utensils and containers, which are now available in all of the company’s facilities. He also replaced Keurig pods in his department with compostable coffee pods, and distributes free compostable containers to those interested in composting at work. At home, Lidstone actively recycles, composts and uses energy efficient light bulbs.

Dedicated to the environment both professionally and personally, Lidstone believes that every environmentally conscious decision, no matter how small, helps preserve the world for future generations. He said simply: “I’m just trying to do my part.”

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