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Virginia Living Museum receives Green Travel Leader Award

You might smell French Fries when Virginia Living Museum staffers Robby Ackerman, Mike Behan and George Mathews, Jr. drive by. That’s because their cars are powered by used frying oil from the museum’s Wild Side Cafe.

The project, which began several years ago, now involves five area personal vehicles and 100% of the cafe’s used frying oil. It has earned the museum a Green Travel Leader Award from the Virginia Green Program.

“Having staff members driving veggie-oil cars has eliminated all waste oil from our museum cafe while making our air cleaner!” said Deputy Director Fred Farris. “‘Green Oil’ takes an otherwise museum ‘waste product’ and turns it into a green recycling material.”

The project saves the museum money – it no longer has to pay to dispose of the used vegetable oil, and it supports the museum’s conservation messaging – keeping 10 gallons of used oil a week out of the landfill.

The project also saves the drivers the cost of fuel, extends the life of their car engines and reduces the amount of air pollution their cars emit.

The program began with a 1983 Mercedes that Ackerman switched from diesel to run on recycled vegetable oil, a type of biodiesel. He installed a pump/filtration system in his garage – a $1,000 investment he recouped in six months.

“I spent 10 years in the Congo, Sahara and Asia helping people feed themselves, so I wanted to stay away from food crops being grown for automobile fuel and looked for oil that was being thrown away,” said Ackerman. The museum’s Wild Side Café that opened in 2007 was the answer.

Mathews runs some museum errands in his Mercedes in addition to personal use. “Sometimes in the summer, neighborhood dogs will come up to the car to check out the smell, a combination of French Fries, fried onions and fried fish. The car’s a little hard to start now that it’s cold – you have to warm up the oil first,” so Mathews uses a 50/50 mix in the winter.

The Virginia Green program is run through a partnership of the Department of Environmental Quality, the Virginia Tourism Corporation, and the Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association. The program encourages green practices in Virginia’s tourism industry, and it has nearly 1,400 partner organizations that have self-certified their green commitments.

This is the second year in a row that the Newport News museum has received a Green Travel Award. Last year’s award was for its solar panel installation.

For more information visit or call 757-595-1900.

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