Regain.. Homepage
  BioDiesel in the Media Visit our online store Diesel Shop Classifieds Visit Our Photo Gallery Sign up today!  
Welcome anonymous user
  Biodiesel SVO & VW Specialists
Biodiesel reduces air toxins by up to 90 percent.
Who's Online

7 anonymous users and 0 registered users online.

You are an unregistered user or have not logged in. You can register here.


Got Grease? Then Fill It Up! - NY Times

October 27, 2004


DAVE DUNHAM, a Web master from Fayetteville, Ark., proclaims he is not an environmentalist, but just "incredibly cheap." Since 2001, he has fueled his cars with waste cooking oil he gets free from restaurants. After being used to make french fries, chicken fingers, egg rolls or tempura, the vegetable oil gets a new life, running his 1998 diesel Volkswagen Beetle.

VEGGIE POWER Lou Preston the owner of Dry Creek Vineyard in Healdsburg, Calif., fills his tractor with fuel made from vegetable oil.While the practice of using vegetable oil to run diesel engines has attracted attention in Europe, it is largely unknown in the United States. But Mr. Dunham is part of a small, expanding network of do-it-yourselfers, environmentalists, farmers and others who see logic in using vegetable oil — referred to as straight vegetable oil, or S.V.O. — rather than diesel fuel, which is refined from petroleum, or other alternative renewable fuels like biodiesel.

Mr. Dunham, 24, was attending Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., in 2001 when a news article inspired him to convert an earlier car, a 1985 Golf diesel, to run on S.V.O., which can be waste or new vegetable oil. While determining the parts that were needed, he came across a Web site, Grease car.com, that sold conversion kits. Mr. Dunham installed the kit, which today costs $795, in eight hours.

After 25,000 trouble-free miles, he opted for the more powerful Beetle, which he also converted. Mr. Dunham said he averaged 46 miles a gallon on used oil, and burned 400 gallons a year.

Straight vegetable oil has some advantages over biodiesel, which is derived from vegetable oil or animal fat by processing with alcohol. Biodiesel is available at more and more suppliers around the country, but it is expensive and taxable as a motor fuel. Because of cost, it is usually mixed with diesel fuel, but can be burned by itself. S.V.O., by contrast, is not taxable, and when collected from restaurants, it is essentially free. (New vegetable oil can be used, but it costs at least $2 a gallon.)

S.V.O. has some disadvantages. For one, few people are inclined to scrounge for waste oil, carting it home from a local Chinese restaurant, say, in plastic jugs. But the oil also has properties that make it less than ideal as a fuel.

"Vegetable oil congeals when cold," said Justin Carven, 27, founder of Greasecar Vegetable Fuel Systems in Easthampton, Mass., and the Greasecar Web site. Mr. Carven's system, like other vegetable oil conversion kits, uses heat from the engine to warm the oil so it flows. The Greasecar kit includes a round 15-gallon aluminum tank (it fits in the spare-tire well), lines connecting to the engine to warm and deliver the oil and a filter to clean impurities from the oil.

When the engine is cold, an S.V.O. system needs some help. In most cases, cars that run on vegetable oil must keep their conventional diesel fuel system. The Greasecar kit includes a valve so that the driver can switch between the two.

"Start your car on the diesel tank," Mr. Carven said. "After a short warm-up, push the button, switching to the S.V.O. tank. Before stopping the engine, push the switch again, to shut down on regular diesel fuel." This clears vegetable oil from the fuel system, so it cannot clog fuel injectors.

Mr. Carven says he has 400 customers. Other companies offer conversion kits, including Greasel Conversions of Drury, Mo. (www.greasel.com), and Neoteric Biofuels in British Columbia (www. biofuels.ca). Regionally, authorized Greasecar installers do conversions for $600 to $800.

Vegetable oil consciousness is mostly concentrated in pockets on the East and West coasts. The idea spreads by word of mouth, across the Internet and at alternative energy fairs.

Generally, S.V.O. users pour the oil into a settling drum, let the gunk settle and decant the upper layers through a filter into a clean drum. They refilter that into containers that fill the car tank.

As for which oils are preferable, most restaurants use partially hydrogenated soy oil, which works fine as a fuel. But aficionados favor certain oils and collection rituals.

"Straight canola's best in cold weather," said Max Penta, 34, of Randolph, Vt., an engineering technician who installs dual-fuel systems and drives a '96 oil-fueled Passat with 235,000 miles on it. "Asian restaurants are great — they seldom reuse tempura oil." His overall favorite, he said, is peanut oil that has been used to deep-fry a turkey. "I usually get 10 gallons at Thanksgiving," he said. "It smells great out the tailpipe."

Mr. Dunham originally got much of his oil from the Tulum Mexican restaurant in Bethlehem, Pa. "First we thought it strange," said Walt Diller, 37, who runs the restaurant. "But we saw Dave's car and we said, Why not?

"When we'd change our nachos and wings fryer oil, we'd funnel it into containers, put a smiley face on them and Dave would pick up about 20 gallons a week and leave empties." Restaurants ordinarily pay to have their waste oil removed.

When Mr. Dunham moved to Philadelphia, he sought out Asian restaurants, but had trouble communicating. A Chinese friend wrote a note for him that translates as "Dave who takes your used cooking oil for free for his car which burns the oil and you must put it in containers for him." With that note, Mr. Dunham says, he gets 100 percent cooperation.

The underground veggie network is growing. When Dave Dunham left Bethlehem for Arkansas, miraculously, Dave Rosenstraus — a musician/S.V.O. car driver/veggie converter — ate at the Tulum restaurant and asked for oil. "It was coincidence," he said, "they had the system all worked out."

Said Mr. Diller, "Dave 2 has taken Dave 1's place."

Lou Preston, 62, owner of Dry Creek Vineyard in Healdsburg, Calif., wanted to run his tractors and other equipment on vegetable oil, but wasn't ready to take the full plunge. So he bought a system from Mr. Carven, as a test, converting an old Mercedes 190D he found on eBay.

"It ran great, but my skepticism was still alive and well because I ran new oil," he said. "So I tried used fryer oil from a fish-and-chips joint that changes oil only once per week. The Mercedes ran great, and I upped the ante and converted an '03 Jetta."

He has since converted some of his tractors, too.

"Now I'm confident in the technology, but had to get the human part right," Mr. Preston said. "I held a workshop for my Spanish-speaking tractor drivers to make sure they switch back to diesel when cooling down, so the injectors don't clog. They think I'm crazy."

Will the government eventually tax vegetable-oil fuel? Justin Soares, who runs a biodiesel fuel co-op in Corvallis, Ore., said he thought the rendering business, which carts away used oil, may eventually complain about lost customers and push for some kind of tax. And S.V.O. may catch on with more people who are currently buying taxed biodiesel. "So maybe when the government smells the french fries," he said, "it'll get involved."

Related Links
Top of page.