Instead of putting a "tiger in your tank," how about squeezing gas from a cow? Either can power your car -- but one is homegrown (literally) and entirely renewable.

Bio-gas is methane produced from slaughterhouse waste; what doesn't become hamburger or beef jerky can be ground up into a soupy slurry, then cooked in a special "digester," where it is acted upon by natural bacteria that produce methane. And methane, as all teenage boys know, is highly combustible. Viola -- flame on! Once the methane is produced, it can be stored and shipped to filling stations wherever there's a need -- just like compressed natural gas (CNG) or propane. Vehicles are already in service with "flex fuel" technology that allows them to burn one, both -- or either -- although not yet in large numbers (mainly due to the currently small methane/CNG distribution network). In addition to being renewable and domestically produced, methane, like CNG, also burns more cleanly than gasoline -- producing fewer harmful combustion byproducts that end up creating smog. The Europeans are well ahead of us on this -- but there's no reason why America's cows shouldn't be helping to end our dependence on Middle Eastern oil. (See testwww.truehealth.org/volvomethanecars.html for more info.)

And bi-ogas isn't the only real-world alternative fuel source we might tap.

There's also BioWillie -- a type of diesel fuel made from vegetable oil that can be used in any diesel engine. Country singer Willie Nelson -- a longtime ally of American farmers -- recently formed a company to market and distribute the fuel -- which is made mostly from processed soybeans -- to trucks stops all over the country. Most people don't realize it, but the diesel engine was originally designed to run on some form of natural vegetable oil -- not petroleum-based diesel. Unlike a gas engine -- which uses a spark to ignite a highly volatile mixture of fuel and oil -- diesels rely on extreme compression and heat to ignite the fuel. This is why vegetable oil -- everything from soybeans to strained grease from a fast-food fry pit -- can be used to power a diesel engine, often with very few (or even no) modification to the engine itself. Willie uses the fuel himself -- for both his personal vehicles as well as his diesel-powered tour bus. Soon, you might be using it, too -- especially at $1.79 per gallon! It's cheaper than regular diesel because homegrown soybeans are less expensive than Saudi Arabian crude. (See www.wnbiodiesel.com for more info.)

If you don't mind getting your hands a little greasy, you can do Willie one better -- and fill your tank for free. All you've got to do is scrounge up enough waste vegetable oil (see your local fast food joint), strain it of loose fries and bits of General Tso's -- and motor on. Most any diesel engine can be run on waste vegetable oil with a few modifications to the fuel lines/storage tank to prevent congealing in low temperatures. The only downside is the down and dirty nature of the fuel -- and the fast food fry pit smell that will blossom out of your vehicle's tailpipe. (See www.greasel.com for more info.)

Or, you could simply offer your car a stiff drink -- of 100-plus octane alcohol. Like bio-diesel, alcohol has two very appealing attributes -- it is renewable and it can be used in existing engines without elaborate technology or conversion hassles. In fact, many late model cars and trucks are being built to run on a gasoline/alcohol mix known as E85. And straight alcohol has been powering race cars for decades, as any fan of motorsports already knows. It is necessary to modify the engine's fuel system to run straight (100 percent) alcohol, but these modifications are not cost-prohibitive or ridiculously complicated. Mostly, it's a matter of replacing fuel lines, pumps, etc. with alcohol-friendly replacement parts that resist the more corrosive nature of the fuel, as well as re-calibrating the air/fuel ratio of the fuel injection system. And once that's done, you can run 180 proof -- instead of $2.50 per gallon -- with virtually no harmful pollution produced, as alcohol is an exceptionally clean-burning fuel. E85 is currently available at many fuel stations, but you can make straight alcohol for your favorite price -- free. Or at least, make it for a whole lot less per gallon than gasoline. Just be sure to get your permit from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) before erecting your backyard distillery. (See http://running_on_alcohol.tripod.com for more info.)

A final option to consider is turning your gas-electric hybrid into a super hybrid. A growing trend among owners of hybrid vehicles is to increase the ability of their vehicles to operate on pure electric power by adding a higher-capacity/accessory battery pack that can be plugged into household outlets for recharging. Production hybrids use the onboard gas engine to recharge the batteries -- but the vehicle must be on for this to work. And that means burning gas -- which cuts down on the hybrid's fuel economy. But if you could plug into the grid, you could recharge the batteries without running the engine -- and without burning any precious dead dino juice. So-called super hybrids modified in this way are getting 20-50 percent better fuel economy than standard hybrids -- as much as 60-80 MPGs, in some cases. Meanwhile, the auto industry is taking the hint and looking into building and selling "plug-in" or "gas optional" hybrids as a way to massively improve fuel economy without imposing massive hassles on owners. (See www.hybridcars.com/plugin-hybrids.html for more info.)

We may just get out of the OPEC headlock in the years ahead -- and not have to give up our cars to do it, either!


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