Patrick Mulligan seldom eats fries but he’s glad they are popular with other people. That goes for tacos and tortillas, too.

The more vegetable oil is made and used, the more fuel there is for the car he drives daily.

Mulligan, 26, loves to slide into his 2003 vegetable oil-powered black Volkswagen Jetta and start the diesel engine. Once it warms up, he flips a special switch to let clean soy oil take over the engine’s needs.

Sometimes, he pumps into the tank BD20, a biodiesel fuel made from 20 percent vegetable oil and 80 percent diesel. Diesel and biodiesel are interchangeable, he says, sort of like regular and decaf coffee.

“It gets 40 miles per gallon regardless of diesel or veggie,” he says. “And it grumbles like a diesel should.”

His goal is to make an environmental statement – not to save gobs of money. He dislikes our country’s dependency on foreign oil, so he decided to pay $2.55 per gallon for new soy oil at Costco instead of always pulling into a gas station.

His commitment to alternative fuels gained speed three years ago when he took part in a Sustainable Solutions Caravan that wanted to promote the use of vegetable oil fuels. “It was a life-changing experience allowing me to see that possibilities are only limited by one’s imagination and faith,” he says.

Back home, he made good on that experience, finding the Jetta. Mulligan’s long-term goal is to establish a backyard filtering system where he can reuse jugs of cooking oil he collects from Pelon’s Baja Grill, a taco specialty shop. That oil is dark in color and full of sediment that must go through a fairly large filter before it’s the quality fuel he wants.

“I think it’s great he’s doing this,” says John Muscara, owner of Pelon’s. This time of year, Muscara goes through 50 gallons of canola oil monthly, but that amount triples during summer. Around the same time Patrick Mulligan came asking for used oil, two other guys made similar requests, says the businessman, so he assumes the concept is catching on.

Mulligan’s concern for Earth’s natural resources goes back to his environmental geography studies at James Madison University. As the recently hired manager of programs for the upcoming World of Wonders children’s garden at Norfolk Botanical Garden, he hopes to share that concern through environmental-type educational programs for young people.

© 2006, Daily Press (Newport News, Va.).

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.