Turning Donuts To Gas In Park Slope

Julia Dunn Jul 31, 2009

Not quite sure what to do with your stale donuts? Michael Winks and Kevin Burget, two Brooklyn-based environmental activists, have the answer: use them to make ethanol.

Winks and Burget, who are working to create an ethanol still and co-op, have partnered with the Park Slope Food Co-op to increase awareness of their project. They hope to ease the conscience of Park Slopers while also looking out for their wallets.

“A lot of people are attracted to the idea of cleaning the air and paying less…and just trying to find a way out of our gas dependency,” Winks said.

The partners hope to locate a still in Park Slope, where co-op members would swipe cards to activate the pump and record their fuel usage. Members would then be billed at the end of each month.

Winks and Burget met with local residents July 17 to discuss ethanol and dispel the many myths surrounding the fuel. Though ethanol can be made from corn, a variety of other ingredients can also be used in the process, such as sugars, plants and starchy foods (including donuts). The ethanol is then distilled through the fermentation of sugar, which can be mixed with gasoline or used by itself in converted gas tanks.

Winks and Burget have gained more than 15 steady supporters over the last 10 months.

Eman Rashid, a Park Slope resident, has been interested in the project since the beginning back in 2008.

“I just feel like if we do things in cooperation, and do things that have nothing to do with money and are good for the earth, then I think we’ll all win,” Rashid said.

While there were people at the meeting who did not own cars, they were still interested in the impact that ethanol could have on public transportation in the city, as well as its use to heat homes.

The co-op, which would be independent from the Park Slope Food Co-op, would need around 500 members to be truly efficient, Burget said. He is optimistic that their idea will generate enough interest to pull in more than enough participants.

Since the vast majority of ethanol co-ops are concentrated in the Midwest, the co-op would be the first of its kind in New York City, Winks said. With 378 ethanol fuel pumps, which comprise roughly 17 percent of the state’s fuel stations, Minnesota has more ethanol pumps than any other state. There are currently only 29 ethanol stations in New York.

Though the alcohol fuel market is thriving in countries such as Brazil and Sweden, the United States still only provides alcohol-based fuel at 2,176 stations across the country.

However, many environmental groups, ranging from Friends of the Earth to Greenpeace, are concerned by the environmental impact of the production of corn-based ethanol, which can contribute to increased levels of global warming pollution and soaring food prices.

Regardless, Burget hopes that the ethanol co-op’s existence will help increase the number of fuel stations throughout the United States.

“It’s going to start to make a lot more sense to people to find other ways to fill up their tank,” Burget said. “I just hope it starts to make sense in enough time to save the climate.”

Ethanol production in the United States rose from 2.12 billion in 2002 to 6.2 billion gallons in 2007, according to industry trade group American Coalition for Ethanol. The coalition attributes this rise to the growing development of ethanol cooperatives and local farmers producing the fuel.

For many future co-op members, the availability of ethanol is appealing for both environmental and financial reasons.

“I wouldn’t be hurting the earth,” said Rashid. “I wouldn’t be hurting my pocketbook and I would make sure that my daughter would have a chance for her future.”

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