Based on a philosophy of “waste-fuelled fun,” Fort McMurray’s inaugural Big Spirit festival featured a creative use for vegetable oil that didn’t involve fried food.

Sustainival, a touring Edmonton-based carnival, brought rides powered by recycled vegetable oil to the summer sendoff during the long weekend. Billed as “The World’s First Green Carnival,” founder Joey Hundert says he wants to get people thinking about energy and innovation, while having fun.

“The point of Sustainival is to get people to start thinking about the green energy technologies that are already available today,” said Hundert. “What better place to do that than Alberta? Alberta is all about energy. Fort McMurray is the energy capital of Canada. If anyone’s thinking about innovation, it’s here in Fort McMurray.”

Before discarded oil can be turned into an energy source, Hundert says it takes approximately one day to fully convert vegetable oil into biofuel in a trailer serving as a portable laboratory. The biological mass runs through a gauntlet of filtration and refining processes, generating several chemical reactions before it can power a generator.

Hundert has a process to convert canola seeds into fuel, and also raids local restaurants and fast food joints for their discarded oil. During the weekend, Hundert and a lab assistant refined oil from the Sawridge Inn and Conference Centre for power.

While the process may seem long, Hundert — who has no engineering background — boasts that it’s an easy skill to master and that the switch to biofuel from traditional diesel is a simple one.

“This is all self-taught and easy. I’m just a geek. I just thought it was a cool hobby to get into, but then I started thinking about ways I could show others how amazing this is,” he says. “The carnival rides don’t know the difference, they’re just hungry for electricity. Our generators can provide that and they don’t smoke, they’re efficient.”

Sustainival is meant to be an educational experience, rather than an environmental call-to-action against fossil fuels. While Hundert believes biofuel technology will advance, he doubts current biodiesel technology will play a large part in fuelling the world’s energy needs.

“Fuel based on agricultural products should stay on the farm for power,” he said. “It could be extended to public transport or emergency vehicles. But putting this in a passenger car or an SUV with one person driving? Wow, that would be a phenomenal waste. You’d be talking about a bushel of grain for 10 miles. Its not worth it.”

Critics of biofuels charge that converting feedstock and biological matter into fuel would drive up food prices. With many parts of the world experiencing severe drought, famine and starvation, the results would be disastrous, something Hundert doesn’t deny.

“Still, I’d like to see the future of biofuel,” he says. “It’s going to be great. It’ll be huge.”