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Vegetable oil: food for thought or fuel for the revolution?

Green Voice, Winter 2003

Recently, in the humble and self-effacing mid-valley
town of Corvallis, a vegetable oil revolution has begun to stir in the hearts
and minds and fuel tanks of the community. Fuel tanks? Yes, fuel tanks.

In September of 2001, a grassroots alternative fuels co-op named Grease Works!
began providing biodiesel fuel to the community. Biodiesel is a vegetable
oil based fuel that can be used in any diesel engine without modification.
It is domestically produced, renewable, and doesn?t require a military presence
in the Middle East to procure.

At the very cornerstone of small-scale biodiesel production
is a steady supply of free, used restaurant fryer oil. Most restaurants
are very eager to part with this versatile natural resource?all one needs to
do, in most cases, is simply ask the owner/manager if they would like to get
rid of their oil for free or continue paying a rendering company to come haul
it away.

Once a supply of oil is secured, it is necessary to heat
and filter the vegetable oil. Next, a mixture of approximately 20%/volume
alcohol (methanol or ethanol) and a small amount of sodium hydroxide (3.5 g-7g/L)
is mixed and added to the vegetable oil. This solution is then mixed for
1-2 hours and allowed to settle out overnight. The next morning,
by way of chemistry miracles divine, biodiesel has been made. The only
byproduct of this reaction is crude glycerin, which, it turns out, makes an
excellent degreaser and can be easily turned into hard soap.

In terms of emissions, biodiesel is profoundly more environmentally friendly
than petroleum-based fuels. Being plant derived, biodiesel is carbon-neutral,
meaning no net carbon is released into the atmosphere when it is burned (due
to the fact that plants, when growing, sequester carbon, storing it as biomass).
When compared with diesel emissions, biodiesel boasts a 100% reduction in SOx,
a 78% reduction in CO2, and a 50% reduction in CO. Biodiesel
is less toxic than table salt, biodegrades faster than sugar, and costs less
than $.50/gallon to produce yourself.

The Grease Works! biodiesel co-op currently has 10 members using biodiesel
in everything from a small Volkswagen rabbit to an industrial diesel chipper.
Recently, due to increased demand, Grease Works! has begun importing commercially
produced biodiesel from a commercial distributor in Eugene (www.qfuels.com),
with the hopes of increasing the use and awareness of this alternative fuel.
For membership/price inquiries, please refer to our website: www.greaseworks.org
.

Biodiesel is a simple technology that is available to We The People today.
Biodiesel is currently available at the pump in Portland and Eugene as well
as several other cities in the Pacific Northwest. It is our hope that
folks interested in biodiesel will band together and start producing biodiesel
in their own communities throughout Oregon and the US at large. It is
only by actively changing our lifestyles and promoting sustainable technologies
that we will one day live the ecotopian dream of sustainability.

Justin Soares

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