You will never see
us arriving
at a job sight
loaded with
5 gallon buckets
of rusty tools
attempting to
"wing it"

— Mark Armstrong

Students Explore Future Fuel Alternatives - Unique Class Growing In Popularity

06/11/2006 – KGO

By: Wayne Freedman

Miles per gallon might matter less if automobiles ran on something other than gas. But that’s a matter of waiting for automakers to develop new engine technologies, so we wait. At least most of us do. But as ABC7’s Wayne Freedman found in Santa Rosa, one teacher isn’t waiting for the big boys to come up with alternative fuels.

It’s not the stuff of a typical college classroom — dirty, rimy, and yet, a curriculum with teeth. Mark Armstrong, auto mechanic: “Well it is a different flywheel.” And when it’s finished, this old Volkswagen will have a new kind of engine. Here’s the old one on blocks. Its electric replacement arrives later.

Mark Armstrong, auto mechanic: “The thing we’re trying to do is provide options.”

Mark Armstrong, a diesel mechanic by trade and also the brains behind this one-of-a-kind class teaching the theories behind alternative fuels, and providing the practice to make them work.

James Martin, student “I put this together for $25 dollars from any hardware store.” It’s an electrolizer for adding hydrogen gas to a car’s air intake, increasing efficiency.

ABC7’s Wayne Freedman: “When you talk efficiency, do you mean speed?

James Martin, student “No. I mean 90 miles to the gallon.”

It doesn’t matter whether you know the difference between a cylinder head or a clutch. This class is open to novices. What’s more interesting is how it’s grown. A year and a half ago they had to beg for students to attend. Last semester, they turned away 60 people.

Mark Armstrong, teacher: “They have the funds to buy the project but they need a little hand-holding.”

Eric Brandon, for instance, converting a diesel Mercedes to run on vegetable oil. Or Nick Kunihiro and Gina Record, building an ethanol processor so they can literally distill their own fuel. Gina Record, student: “We talk about everything from making energy form waves and winds to alcohol and steam locomotives.” Or put another way: If you don’t like the price of gas you can complain or build something better.

ABC7’s Wayne Freedman: “What’s at the top of your list that you haven’t tried?”

Mark Armstrong, auto mechanic: “I think microjet turbines are pretty exciting.”

Maybe next semester.