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Workshop will teach women the tricks of biofuel conversion

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If you dream of tooling around Pittsburgh in a less-polluting set of wheels, your choices have just increased. Fossil Free Fuel is setting up shop in Braddock to help people convert their vehicles to run on biofuel -- vegetable oil. They make modifications to regular vehicles that harness the heat of an engine allowing a car to run on vegetable oil -- cheap, plentiful and renewable. Founders Colin Huwyler and Dave Rosenstraus, who had been operating in Allentown, Pa., since 2003 will open the Braddock location on May 1.

Later that month, the shop will be home to a series of workshops on biofuel open to only a specific type of customer: women.

"I've gotten all of my information from men," says Gina Favano, who has partnered with Fossil Free Fuel since moving from Philadelphia three months ago, where her attempts to set up a biofuel co-op were met with more enthusiasm than infrastructure or support. "Very few women have had the opportunity and encouragement to explore."

So, starting in May, she's running a series of women-only workshops about biofuel: one on basic maintenance and repair, one on converting a vehicle to run on vegetable oil, and one on biodiesel processing and safety. Biodiesel is a little different from biofuel: It's chemically derived from vegetable oil, as opposed to straight vegetable oil or SVO, which relies on the engine's heat to make the SVO viscous enough to use as fuel. Thanks to a grant from The Sprout Fund, the classes will be free to a limited number of women who register in advance.

Favano herself first got involved with biodiesel in 2003, when she converted the tour van for her former band John Denver's Airplane to run on vegetable oil. At shows, the band members would mention that they'd arrived on vegetable oil, and Favano says she'd try to hold workshops in any city she stayed in long enough. As a touring band that relied on the van to get everywhere, she says, it seemed hypocritical to sing about social consciousness while using fossil fuels.

She says that in putting about 200,000 miles on the van, she broke down in nearly every state in the country, and had to learn on the fly. "I've made a lot of mistakes," she says. "I'm not trying to be an expert -- it's a support network for people to get together and eke it out."

"There's a niche community of people who are interested -- it's predominately male," says Fossil Free Fuel's Rosenstraus. "I've known Gina for a few years, her and one other person were the only female people that I've met. In general, I guess, with the automotive world, it's pretty male dominated as well. Is that just societal construction? It'd be great to have more gender equality."

"The fuel world is a male-dominated world; that's a fact that needs to change," agrees Nathaniel Doyno of Steel City Biofuels, a biofuel education and advocacy group. "I really applaud Gina."

Doyno says having another alternative fuel outfit locally is great for both groups. "I always agree that competition is a good thing for any industry and what were talking about is building a community," he says. "We need more people like that. They represent that bold creative entrepreneurial spirit, but still punk rock and real."

"They're like the anti-drama queens," says Braddock Mayor John Fetterman of Fossil Free Fuel. "They're focused on bringing a great business to Braddock."

Fossil Free Fuel opens May 1 in Braddock. To register for women in biofuels, call 412-894-8184.

Gina Favano will be offering workshops to teach women how to convert their vehicles to run on biofuels -- vegetable oil.
  • Gina Favano will be offering workshops to teach women how to convert their vehicles to run on biofuels -- vegetable oil.

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