— Gordon Soderberg is an expert on how to deal with a disaster.
The U.S. Navy veteran has helped rebuild communities devastated by Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy and other natural disasters.
His focus is on sustainable relief response that uses the skills of veterans, especially those trying to re-acclimate into civilian life. Soderberg operates the Veterans Green Bus, a 1980 Crown Supercoach redesigned to run on used cooking grease.
"During Sandy, (fuel) was rationed," Soderberg explained during a visit to Saginaw Friday, Sept. 13. "You could only get five gallons per person, and if you were a volunteer organization, you got 15 vans that all need 15 gallons of gas, so everyone's standing in line all day, waiting to buy fuel. That doesn't work."
, who has worked with Soderberg in the past.
Rosas, an Army veteran, now attends Delta College, pursuing a major in automotive technology. Soderberg brought his unique vehicle to Delta to show its capabilities to Rosas' classmates.
The bus was converted, in the midst of Soderberg's six-month relief effort after Hurricane Sandy, to a system that will run on used cooking grease.
"If Sandy happened again, we'd roll in and have about three-quarters of all of our fuel, and we'd be able to stay a month, running our power, our lights and LED floodlights," Soderberg
Besides grabbing grease for free from restaurants during his travels, Soderberg can use a deep fryer to cook while at the disaster site and use the grease to refuel.
"Our solution is to bring the fuel with you and make fuel while you're there without making an impact on the people who actually need gasoline and diesel," he said.
While the bus needs diesel to operate, Soderberg said it is a minimal amount.
"We've done 8,500 miles with this fuel system, and it's cost me $200 in diesel. That's used to start the engine, get it to temperature, and then I hit a switch, and I run it on used cooking oil."
The bus gets 8 to 10 miles per gallon and can carry up to 400 gallons at a time, Soderberg said. That means the Veterans Green Bus can travel about 4,000 miles without refueling. From Detroit, he could drive to Las Vegas and back without worrying about filling up.
The Crown Supercoach cost $3,000, with $8,000 in upgrades and about $6,000 in mechanical work.
"For under $20,000, you've got a disaster response vehicle capable of crossing the country on $200," he said.
While many Crowns are used on the West Coast, Soderberg said emission regulations are leading to their end. Instead of destroying the buses, he wants them converted.
"If you put diesel in this thing, it's a nasty pig, but if you use grease, there are no emissions," he said.
Soderberg is hoping to convince disaster relief agencies and other organizations of the benefits of the sustainable vehicles.
"Give us these old vehicles. We'll put them back to work and run them green," he said. "You don't need to destroy this vehicle to make sure it doesn't run dirty fuel. We'll take care of that."
As for the Veterans Green Bus, Soderberg is searching for a permanent home for the vehicle. He has picked the city of Detroit as the organization's headquarters.
"The next step is finding this bus a home where we can work on it and duplicate it," he said.
Soderberg's goal is to acquire one of several former Detroit firehouses up for auction and use the space to train veterans on sustainable disaster relief. The purchase price for a firehouse building is $60,000, he said.
"There's plenty of training to be done with demolishing houses, gutting houses, rebuilding them, wiring plumbing. Plus, housing is cheap there. There's a brand new VA there," he said.
The veterans with whom Soderberg envisions working would get trained, paired into groups of five and restore five abandoned houses, purchased through auction. After all five homes were renovated, each member of the group would get a fully restored home.
"It's a way to repopulate Detroit with veterans — with skilled labor — that want to be there," Soderberg said.