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St. Cloud bus smells like french fries

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St. Cloud's new vegetable oil powered bus
This 40-foot, 38 passenger St. Cloud city bus has been been converted to run on used vegetable oil. City officials say it's the first city transit bus of its kind in the country.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

At 10 a.m., it's time to cook french fries here at Garvey Commons, a dining hall for students on the St. Cloud State University campus. 

"We use fresh potatoes, we cut our own french fries and use fresh potatoes for our fries," said Tim Ness, director of residential dining at SCSU. 

He said for years the waste oil from these fryers was cleaned out and taken to a bin at the back of the building. 

French fries
SCSU sends about 150 gallons of used deep fat fryer oil a week to the city of St. Cloud for use in a new bus that uses the oil for fuel.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

"Some guy would come with a big pump and empty out the bin and he'd take it off to the cities," said Ness.

But now that waste oil, about 150 gallons a week, is filtered and given to the city of St. Cloud to use as bus fuel. 

This is the Husky Fried Ride, named after St. Cloud State's mascot, the Husky.  

It's a 40-foot, 38-passenger St. Cloud city bus that has been converted to run on used vegetable oil. City officials say it is the first city transit bus of its kind in the country. 

The city's maintenance manager, Ed Yorek, takes the new grease powered bus for a spin. 

Ed Yorek
St. Cloud's transportation maintenance manager Ed Yorek says the city's new french fry grease powered bus runs much cleaner than a conventional diesel bus.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

"You'll notice on any diesel powered vehicle even with the latest emission controls you'll have a slight puff of black smoke when you accelerate and first take off," said Yorek. "Not on this unit here, there's none of that, it's 100 percent clean."

And yes, the bus does smell a bit like french fries, a sort of overdone batch of french fries at that, but at least there are no stinky plumes of diesel smoke. 

The project cost about $12,000 to convert the bus to run on french fry grease, a system city workers designed and built themselves. For now it will burn 20 percent standard diesel and 80 percent waste oil, although the city will try soon to run the bus on 90 percent waste oil. 

The savings on diesel fuel for the city will be significant, more than $2 a gallon.  But St. Cloud's transit commissioner, Dave Tripp, said there are other benefits, 

"It's not just the cost. Cost is a big factor yes, but it's very, very, very clean burning," said Tripp. "So environmentally, it's just a no brainer."

The Husky Fried Ride will start taking passengers Friday.  It will travel a bus route between St. Cloud State University and student housing around the city. The school estimates the bus will travel 13,000 miles a year.