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Student Fuels Cross Country Trip with Used Vegetable Oil

Education student, Jillian Deegan and her friend Scott Karduck converted a truck to run on used vegetable oil for a cross country trip this summer.

by Pamela BatsonKarduck and Deegan.jpg

Deegan collecting oil.jpgWhen Jillian Deegan and her friend Scott Karduck concocted a plan to drive across the country this summer on used vegetable oil, they had no idea where their adventure would take them. Deegan is a senior elementary education major at Penn State’s College of Education and Karduck, a State College resident, is a former mechanical engineering student at Penn State.


Deegan describes Karduck as a “mechanical genius” whom she credits with making their trip a success. After much research online, he made his own modifications and converted a Dodge Ram 2500 to run on used vegetable oil. They are keeping the specific details of the modifications under close wraps, but the oil, which they collected from the dumpsters of restaurants, passes through seven filters and is thinned by a heating mechanism, before it reaches the engine. This only decreased the Dodge’s power by ten percent, which Deegan said was barely noticeable.  With proper filters, the truck ran smoothly. In fact, they had problems with the factory parts leaking, but none of their modifications caused any problems.


According to Deegan, they had a system of using a vacuum tank to suck up 20 gallons of oil in less than two minutes. The fuel cube in the back of the truck held 275 gallons, and they figure the Dodge got around 16 miles per gallon which meant if they had a full cube, they only had  to stop every 4400 miles to refuel. Their biggest haul was 250 gallons at one restaurant in Wyoming.

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“If you think collecting used oil from dumpsters is messy, it is! There were times when we were knee deep in smelly, ugly dumpsters, pumping out the oil. I would control the valve and Scott would handle the hose. But our liquid gold, took us almost 11,000 miles, and it was worth it,” says Deegan.


The friends left State College, Pa., on June 28 and headed south. They made stops in Florida and New Orleans before driving across Texas where they happened to go sailing with an Avon tycoon they met through family friends. From there they traveled to New Mexico and Arizona, visited the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas before heading up the California coast. Among their many adventures, they got stopped by police at Hoover Dam because they thought the tubes protruding from the back of the truck might be explosives. In Oregon, they took in the Red Bull Flugtag – an event featuring human powered machines flying off 30 foot decks. Coming back they stopped at Yellowstone National Park and even bought a used Mustang in Illinois that they hauled back to Pennsylvania.


To save expenses, they camped along the way and stayed with friends or family whenever possible. The kindness of strangers was a major part of the experience that touched Deegan. Once when camping in the rain, a family offered to let them sleep inside their RV and made them dinner. It was random acts of kindness like this that Deegan says made their trip that much more memorable.


Arriving back in State College on August 17, Deegan began her final year of studies on August 25. She will spend the spring semester student teaching in Chichester, England, before graduating in May. True to her adventurous nature, she plans to continue teaching overseas after she graduates and hopes to live in New Zealand one day.


Deegan is a 2008-09 recipient of the Floyd B. Fischer Scholarship in the College of Education and is also on the Dean’s List.