Driving for alternatives

'Drive to Survive 2003' campaign focuses on fuel sources

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— Henderson Park resident Fred Robinson and his son, Tai, tried their best to get a speeding ticket in their Toyota Tacoma.

They were on the interstate somewhere between Columbia, Mo., and their destination, Chicago, Ill., when they reached 110 mph.

They wanted to get a ticket just to say they could do it -- break the speed limit using hydrogen combined with gasoline for fuel.

By adding hydrogen to the fuel, the Robinsons increased the gas mileage of their pickup by one third and greatly reduced emissions from the tailpipe. Their truck, which holds five bottles of compressed hydrogen in the back, can also run on hydrogen alone.

The Robinsons and their hydrogen-powered truck are taking part in "Drive to Survive 2003," a campaign to educate and raise awareness of alternative fuels.

Their truck is the only hydrogen-powered vehicle in a seven-car, two-week, 20-city, cross-country caravan of vehicles powered by alternative fuels. Other vehicles in the caravan are powered by fuels ranging from soybean and vegetable oils to ethanol to electricity. The clean-burning vehicles are capable of matching speed and distance with most of today's gasoline-fueled vehicles, as the Robinsons' clearly demonstrated.

"We've got to eliminate our reliance on fossil fuels and foreign countries who provide them to us," Fred Robinson said. "We can stop the political mess overseas. We just need to stop using fossil fuels altogether and use our own clean fuel sources."

The campaign is sponsored by the Institute of Ecolonomics.

"'Ecolonomics' is a word expressing the understanding that our ecology and economics are two sides of the same coin," according to the institute's Web site.

"Ecolonomics is a movement away from behavior that is ecologically and economically destructive, towards activities that protect our environment and nurture our economy."

"We're doing this to create a sustainable future," institute founder Dennis Weaver said. "To do that, we need a sustainable fuel source. With an unsustainable fuel source, we have an unstable economy."

Weaver -- perhaps most well known for his acting in "Gunsmoke" and "McCloud" -- is leading the caravan from Los Angeles to Washington D.C., making stops for media events and educational expos in San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Denver, St. Louis, Chicago, Philadelphia.

The caravan is making "pit stops" in many small towns along the way, "just to turn some heads," Robinson said.

The Drive to Survive campaign has drawn the support of hundreds of businesses and prominent individuals, including actors Tom Hanks and Bill Pullman.

The goal is to "drive hydrogen home," Fred said. But there are more goals than that.

As the group is raising awareness, it also is gaining support.

They are passing around a petition they will submit to President George Bush and Congress, pledging their support for alternative fuels to promote clean air and reduce dependence on foreign oil.

The goal is to get 100,000 signatures by May 14, when the caravan arrives in the nation's capital. There are less than 3,000 now.

The group is pushing not only hydrogen as an alternative fuel source, but electricity and anything else that burns cleaner than gasoline: natural gas, propane, methanol, ethanol and biodiesels that include vegetable, peanut, canola and soybean oils.

What most people might not know, Fred said, is that most vehicles can run on these alternative fuels, and some can do it without any modifications.

For a vehicle to run on hydrogen, a few modifications have to be made, but every diesel-powered vehicle can run on biodiesels with no modifications. Also, gasoline-powered vehicles can run on an environmentally friendly ethanol fuel called E*85, a mix of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.

Biodiesels and other alternative fuels have to be made widely available first, though, Fred said.

"When people figure out how to make money doing this, it's going to happen," Fred said.

Fred, 53, and his son Tai, 28, are working with the city of Steamboat Springs to implement natural gas-powered buses in town.

"Natural gas has about 70 to 80 percent cleaner emissions," Fred said. "As far as I'm concerned, Steamboat has an air-pollution problem. I've lived here 30 years, and I've seen the air get green. I don't like to chew the air I breathe, so I want to do something about it."

Fred is the owner of Intergallactic Auto, sometimes called Intergallactic Hydrogen, in Henderson Park.

They have converted their Toyota, Fred and Tai are offering to covert other vehicles, as well.

Fred said he learned about the power of hydrogen in the 1970s, and Tai said he learned about it as soon as he could understand the English language, because his father was always talking about it.

Friday, Tai gave a speech to a crowd of media and spectators on hydrogen power and its benefits.

"It's inspiring to see so many people," Tai said about the gathering. "We seem to be gaining momentum. We're beginning to draw nationwide attention, and we should be. This is the chance the people have to gain some power with sustainable energy. It really is the answer for all the countries of the world right now."

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