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Running on Grease

Ten Basic Steps to Converting Your Diesel Engine to Run on Vegetable Oil


Found in: | Inside | Politics | Wellness |

"The use of plant oil as fuel may seem insignificant today, but such products can in time become just as important as kerosene and these coal-tar products of today."

- Rudolph Diesel, inventor of the diesel engine (1858-1913)

Skiers, snowboarders, bikers, hikers, paddlers, fishers and climbers all have something new in common: skyrocketing gas prices. According to the U.S. Gasoline Fuel Prices Report, petroleum gas prices were 25.3 cents per gallon higher than this time last year. Yet the Four Corners are begging to be explored. What can outdoor enthusiasts do, trade in our cars and start thumbing for rides into nearby mountains and desert?

Or give into the corporate oil companies and watch our bank accounts drain?

 
Don't feel forced to stay home and sulk in your sweats, while fresh powder sits on the mountain, pleading to be embraced with your tracks. You can say goodbye to the days spent trapped indoors with no means of escape, because there is a solution to this dilemma: Converting your car to run on vegetable oil.

Any diesel car can run on grease, not only saving precious gas money but yielding other important benefits. By fueling our cars with old frying grease from restaurants, we can reuse one industry's waste and turn it into an environmentally friendly fuel source. Studies done by major universities show that vegetable oil as fuel has fewer emissions than fossil diesel, which means that it is more eco- friendly. According to From the Fryer to the Fuel Tank: the Complete Guide to Using Vegetable Oil as an Alternative Fuel by John Tickell, bio-diesel limits the amount of net carbon that is released into the atmosphere; the carbon contained in canola oil is seized by plant metabolism, and is not derived from mineral sources. Burned through a vehicle engine, petroleum diesel emits high levels of soot which can trigger allergy reactions from the carcinogens and smog. The amount of sulphur released from bio-fuel into the atmosphere is also less than nearly 100 percent of petroleum fuel; sulphur emissions, including sulphur dioxide, make up the main constituent of acid rain and contribute to allergies and smog.

It takes research, time and effort to convert a car to run on bio-fuel, but ultimately it's easier to use than petroleum fuel. Colorado native and Fort Lewis College student Graham Pierce, 23, has converted his 1984 Mazda B2200 pick up truck to run on straight vegetable oil (SVO). Pierce, who is a member of the San Juan Bio-diesel Collective and has been working with the FLC Environmental Center for four years, says, "I was interested in becoming more sustainable in my practices. It doesn't make sense to use gas for everything. We are burning a resource that could be used for many other purposes."

Pierce converted his engine two years ago. But prior to purchasing the parts needed to complete this procedure, he put in a year's worth of research on the internet and spoke to people with hands-on experience with converting vehicles to run on vegetable oil. Now, he says, "it's well worth the time. It is more eco-friendly, and the last time I filled up on diesel was probably 2,000 miles ago, so I am definitely saving some money too."

If you want to convert your vehicle to bio-diesel, be prepared to commit time and patience to the project. You'll need to conduct your own research, find a ready supply of vegetable oil, buy or make the necessary components (which can run from $500 to $1,500 without installation), install the components and convert your existing vehicle or a new one to run on grease.

Basic Steps to Converting Your Vehicle
 
1 Research: The Internet is a great source of information. On any search engine, type "converting your car to run on grease" to find some great web sites on the subject, many of which provide the opportunity to converse with enthusiasts. Or go directly to Greasel.com, Greasecar.com, or Frybrid.com. Also, read books on the subject, including what some call the bio bible, From the Fryer to the Fuel Tank, John Tickell's book. It contains detailed instructions on how to use waste vegetable oil as an alternative fuel for a diesel engine, mentioning current global trends and offering viable alternatives to burning fossil fuels. The book also gives detailed instructions on how to build a bio-diesel processor and how to convert your car to run on other alternative fuels such kerosene-veggie (a kerosene and vegetable oil option). Look for the book at your local library or through Amazon.com.

Also, according to Pierce, "the best way to get information is by talking to people who have done the conversion." Start by asking local environmental groups and services, talking to people at natural foods stores, contacting local mechanics, or just discussing the conversion to friends. You'd be surprised at how many people have useful information.

 
2 Find and secure a local, affordable supply of veggie oil. Check with your local restaurants for unwanted, used frying grease: burger joints, Asian restaurants, school cafeterias, grocery stores. It is abundant, and it's free. You can get as little or as much at a time as needed, depending upon your arrangement with your source(s). A good way to transport the grease is through barrels, or even milk cartons. Tupperware also works, just make sure the lid is secured on the container so it doesn't spill. Pierce usually collects his grease in gallon containers. The amount of grease needed will vary depending on how much you drive. Try to get a truck to transport larger amounts of grease, such as barrels, to save time and trips. You can offer your source money - a suggested five or ten dollars - to take the grease; usually restaurant owners are more than willing to give you grease, otherwise they pay for its removal. Tell potential sources of your plan to convert your vehicle to run on waste vegetable oil, and that you would love to take their used frying grease off of their hands.

"I've got an understanding with the campus food services, and they let me take as little or as much as I want," says Pierce.

 
3 Determine which bio-diesel design is most appropriate for your vehicle, climate, and budget, and which components will be required. "It depends on the individual. Not all options work for all cars," says Pierce, who chose to do a straight vegetable oil conversion.

Straight Vegetable Oil conversions are better suited to some engines than others. Conversion of domestic vehicles with computer-controlled fuel injection is discouraged because they are tuned to the viscosity and combustion characteristics of high sulphur petroleum-based diesels. However, vehicles with such characteristics have been successfully converted to SVO with few to no effects. Ideal candidates for conversion include normally or turbo-aspirated indirect injection diesel engines: Toyota, GMC, Ford or similar pickup trucks, diesel Mercedes, and most diesel Volkswagens, Rabbits, Golfs, Jettas etc. For other cars, find the system best suited to a make and model at greenfuel.org.uk.

 
4 Make the components yourself or enlist the help of kits. Decide if you want to make all or some of your own components, or buy them separately or as a "kit." Kits are readily available, and range from $650 to $1,500. There are many options for conversion kits, suitable to any size engine, including the biggest diesel vans and pick ups to a VW Rabbit. Shop around. Kits can be found at the websites mentioned in Step 1, with more markets popping up all the time. Pierce got his truck for $590, and spent about $500 on parts. Pierce says, "I bought the truck, got it to run, and then converted the engine. I learned a lot from the hands-on experience."
 
5 Investigate the required materials. Some of the materials can be found on the internet at the suggested websites. Parts cost from $500 to $1,500, without installation: ? Fuel switcher valve ? Fuel tank - Pierce found his on Ebay ? " heater hose ? T-connectors for splicing heater core hoses ? Heated diesel filter/water separator ? Oil cooler for installation in the tank ? External lift pump ? Brass valve ? A diesel powered vehicle ? Time and Patience ? A work area with enough room for a car and about four feet of open work space around it (a garage).
 
6 Make or purchase a prefilter/dewatering unit if your veggie oil source is waste vegetable oil (WVO). Often, small chunks of chicken or French fries need to be filtered out before heating the grease. Pierce runs his grease through a restaurant grease filter to sift through the unwanted material; a large coffee filter will suffice.
 
7 Gather your components and preassemble the conversion.
 
8 Install your veggie oil conversion. Get organized, and take each step at a time. This is a lengthy process and could take from a couple months to a couple years to complete, depending on how much time you devote to the project.
 
9 Test your veggie oil conversion. Two major factors in the project are the filtration and the heating of the oil. When you acquire the grease, you need to filter the hell out of it. According to Pierce, the other essential step is heating the oil, a step that can determine the success of your vehicle's operation. The cooler the temperature of your environment, the more heating is required.
 
10 If you have completed these steps, you're ready to go. "The time I spent on the conversion," says Pierce, "has paid off with the amount of money I have saved, the feeling of being more sustainable in my practices, and just learning about alternative fuels."
 
Converting your vehicle to run on grease or frying oil not only benefits you and the environment, it is an initiative to reduce our country's dependence on foreign oil. When Rudolf Diesel invented the diesel engine, he intended for it to run on peanut oil, or other kinds of vegetable oils. "The use of plant oil as fuel may seem insignificant today," he said, "but such products can in time become just as important as kerosene and these coal-tar products of today."

No one wants to kick his car to the curb just because he can't afford to feed it anymore. Converting a car to bio-diesel is a solution that will keep delivering you to the local slopes or the desert but for a fraction of the price of gasoline. Plus, your conscience and the environment will thank you.

Satin Abtahi is a Fort Lewis College student majoring in English and Communications. She hopes to one day commute to Purgatory on grease.

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