OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - Sea Camp students in Ocean Springs took a cruise Wednesday morning on a boat that smelled a bit like french fries. Actually, it was the boat's diesel engine putting out that fast-food aroma.
Youngsters learning about marine life, got a bonus lesson in alternative fuels.
"It's where fresh water meets saltwater," said instructor Beth Jones, as the "Miss Peetsy B" moved away from the dock and into the bay.
Students in the popular Sea Camp program learn all about the Mississippi Sound.
"And the scientific name for how salty something is is salinity, that's right!" Jones told her kids.
The trawl net yielded an ever interesting variety of fish and crabs and ready-made lessons.
"It's a boy, guys!" said the teacher, holding up a blue crab in a small acquarium.
On this marine adventure the boat's diesel engine becomes the show and tell star.
With the flip of a switch, the Miss Peetsy B is suddenly powered by waste vegetable oil, rather than diesel.
"The only way you'll notice is every now and then when the wind blows a certain way, you'll smell french fries, just like you're at McDonald's or something," Randy Holton told the kids.
Holton converted the boat engine to burn this alternative fuel.
"Makes sense because to burn vegetable oil is a carbon neutral process. The plants pull the carbon dioxide out of the air to make the vegetable oil. And then when you burn the vegetable oil, the carbon dioxide goes back into the air," said Holton, with a company called Green World Innovations.
For the kids aboard this maiden vegetable oil voyage, it's a practical lesson.
"This is a great working example of us reducing our use of oil, them recycling and us re-using. So, it's just all packaged really neatly together. Sends a great message to the students and it's economical," said Chris Snyder, with GCRL's Marine Education Center.
It's especially economical since the Miss Peetsy B has a long term source for the waste vegetable oil. Lucy Buffett happens to own LuLu's, a popular restaurant in Gulf Shores.
"We go through quite a bit, so there's plenty to keep this boat running for a long time," said restaurant manager, George Martin, who also went on the maiden cruise with the new fuel system.
Holton says most diesel engines actually burn about five percent more efficiently when powered by waste vegetable oil.