When my friend Dave Schenker—Boise State mechanical engineering student and registered racecar-freak—told me he was going to build the world's fastest vegetable oil-powered vehicle, I jumped on the chance to tell the story. Over two years, I filmed the Greenspeed team, made up of BSU engineering students who set out to build and race a vegetable powered vehicle at Bonneville Speed Week. With one record broken at over 155 mph at El Mirage in 2011, Greenspeed proved that vegetable oil is a viable source of energy. Capable of burning three fuel types (bio-fuel, vegetable oil, diesel), the team’s vehicle took a chance on breaking all three records in those classes.
Coming into this project, I realized that vegetable oil could never replace petroleum-based fuels, simply due to the fact that the cost to get vegetable oil from the farm to the pump is just too high and actually uses more petroleum product in the process. Instead, I was interested in the fact that students such as Patrick Johnston, the club Vice President, was attempting to bring attention to alternative fuels in an effort to see them being used in other racing sports in the future; and the fact that crew chief Jenny Kniss hoped to pass her knowledge of mechanics onto other women using a sport that's long been dominated by men.
If the Greenspeed team could build a race vehicle and break a world record on vegetable oil, then who's to say someone down the road wouldn't try and break a world record with solar-powered electricity? I’m hoping that my documentary Greenspeed will inspire people to turn to alternative methods or at least consider being more environmentally conscious. I see the film being used in the classroom to teach students and educators what a student-run organization is actually capable of.
Pioneering a new category of motor sports comes with lots of trials and tribulations, including blown motors, sleepless nights, and months of fundraising, all out of sheer determination to succeed. Every August, life bursts forth from Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats in the form of high octane and nitrous. A historic place known for land speed records, Bonneville has had its share of speed junkies and colorful characters that make up its character. It's an event with no prize money, just bragging rights for the fastest. The Greenspeed team hopes to claim that recognition while bringing awareness to alternative fuels.
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This project is part of GOOD's Saturday series—our guide to crowdfunding creative progress.