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Post oil: Microloans and cooking oil green-up 'jeepneys'

An engineer says microloans and cooking oil can make over a fleet of old jeepney buses, and a city in the Philippines is ready to jump on board.

By Tina PamintuanContributor / October 11, 2011

Chips Guevera sells a conversion kit that enables jeepney owners to install engines that run on the cheaper oil.

Tina Pamintuan

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Manila

Filipino life relies on "jeepneys." Riding one to work or school is routine for most people here. The eclectic utility vehicles – a mash-up of jeep and jitney – attract passengers with their flashy ornaments and bold paint jobs. However, for all their color, these small buses are decidedly not green.

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With 15-to-20-year-old engines that are far from fuel-efficient, jeepneys exhale a sizable share of the country's carbon emissions.

That's why engineer Chips Guevera set out to convince jeepney owners in the Philippines to convert their diesel engines to run on filtered cooking oil.

Shrinking the industry's carbon footprint, he says, could improve air quality and curb the country's fossil fuel consumption.

"It's a no-brainer," he says in his small garage in Makati, one of 17 cities that make up metro Manila. "The costs are lower and it's better for the environment."

Mr. Guevera, who also sells the recycled and filtered fuel, touts how used cooking oil around Manila is already cheaper than diesel. Still, it's difficult to convince owners to take a risk on something new, especially when most can't afford the conversion kit that his company, Alterenergy Systems, sells.

While Guevera spreads the message in the nation's capital, he's inspired a nearby city to take matters into its own hands and to nudge jeepney owners toward a petrol-free future.

The government of Tanauan, a few hours south of Manila, has teamed up with one of the country's major banks to create a special program that will lend drivers the money needed to convert their vehicles. Already, the city council has set aside 600,000 Filipino pesos ($13,800) to fund a pilot program for 10 jeepneys.

Under the plan, drivers without the credit history or collateral needed for a normal loan may borrow the government money from Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation. As the jeepney owners repay the loan, the original amount of the loan goes back to the city while the bank pockets the interest.

Tanauan Mayor Sonia Torres Aquino put the plan in motion after her son-in-law and adviser, Jovi Bengzon, visited Guevera's garage. He returned very impressed.

"It smelled like fried chicken," jokes Mr. Bengzon. "But it worked."

If the pilot program runs smoothly, Ms. Aquino says it could expand to help more of Tanauan's 350 jeepney drivers save on fuel.

"It will be very economical for them," she says. "It is also environmentally sound; but to start, they will have to spend some money – more than they are used to."

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