Skip to comments.The Basics: Fill your tank with vegetable oil
Posted on 04/30/2005 6:10:42 AM PDT by grania
Diesel engines can run on just about anything, including used cooking oil. An entire industry is emerging to provide brave 'biodiesel' pioneers with the ingredients for petroleum-free motoring.
One day last March, my musician friend Jonathan drove up in a Mercedes. This was odd, since Jonathan is so resolutely counterculture that he once tried recording an album in the woods, without electricity.
His car's exhaust smelled faintly of french fries, and therein lay the explanation: The new Jonathan Richman tour vehicle -- an '84 300D Turbo -- was running on vegetable oil-derived biodiesel fuel as he and his drummer crisscrossed the nation in it, a deep fryer on wheels.
I was intrigued: Biodiesel comes from renewable resources. It's made from soybeans, corn or other oil crops, saving America's farmers. Or it comes from recycled kitchen grease, saving America's sewers. It pollutes remarkably less than petroleum fuel, and could potentially make the U.S. energy self-sufficient, freed from bargaining with dictators and terror-sponsor states.
And did I mention it smells like french fries?
But I was also suspicious. If it works so well, why isn't everyone already using it? I've fallen prey to New Age wishful thinking before, and that pyramid never did sharpen my razor. Even after cruising the Pacific Coast Highway in Jonathan's car, something about it didn't seem real. If a car runs on vegetable oil, does that mean I can run my TV on sauerkraut? Don't let retirement sneak up on you. Create a perfect plan.
Endorsed by Rudolf Diesel himself It turns out biodiesel is not a new idea. When Rudolf Diesel introduced his signature engine at the 1900 Paris Exposition, he said two words as he started it: "Peanut oil." He'd designed his engine so farmers could grow their own fuel. Most diesel engines were indeed run on vegetable oil until the 1920s, when the petroleum industry promoted a gasoline byproduct as diesel fuel.
Environmental concerns, the Iraq war and rising gas prices have spurred a renewed interest in biodiesel, and people have discovered that a diesel automobile can run on it with little or no alteration. (Cars more than a decade old should have fuel lines checked, because the highly solvent fuel eats some rubber compounds. It cleans engines so effectively that fuel filters also bear watching.) It can be used interchangeably with standard diesel fuel, and it's had well over a million miles of road-testing.
I started seriously thinking about joining the biodiesel generation when a butterscotch Mercedes 240D turned up for sale around the corner for $3,500. Saving the environment is nice, but I really like butterscotch. Test-driving the car, however, I found that friends' concerns about the model's 67-horsepower engine proved true. The 240D has a reputation for running forever, but that's also apparently how long it takes to get anywhere in it.
The biggest hurdle: where to tank up Even if this wasn't the diesel steed for our experiment in vehicular unction, I was now set on getting one. My wife expressed doubts about the biodiesel lifestyle, though, when I suggested we could store the 55-gallon drum in the bushes near the garage.
Problem will be getting rid of the craving for a ceasers salad every time you drive.
Now when they get it to run on Ben and Jerry's they will have really hit on something!!!!
Yeah... like we have reserves of vegetable oil-bio-diesel to exploit...as large as Saudi Arabia's oil reserves
We keep hearing a lot about soy bio-diesel around here.
Doesn't it take more of regular oil to harvest corn oil. I feel like if this was such a great idea it would have been done already.
The nice thing about biodiesel is that not only is it very clean-burning in a diesel engine when refined properly (you don't even have the French fry smell of used cooking oil), but by just changing the refining process slightly you also get heating oil of the type that can be used in furnaces that use heating oil.
mmmmm.....living near a highway will be like a walk through the food court.
The cynic in me says that corporations and governments are going to exploit traditional fuel for profit as much as it can before there is a "crisis" and we're all using McDonald's french fries (or whatever) for something useful.
BTW - you ever buy cooking oil? It is more expensive than diesel.
At a personal level, for those that want to grow and produce bio-diesel, it might be viable, but not large scale.
Lastly, diesel can run straight vegetable oil, with some minor mods first.
Generally, I fill the car with very old vegetable oil.
The energy inputs are probably as ridiculous as growing corn to make ethanol. It takes a lot of oil to grow a bushel of corn. Oil is also used to make fertilizer
You would have build millions of acres of cement algae ponds. That costs billions. You would be using oil to fuel all the machinery to harvest and grow the stuff.
Petroleum is so convenient because nature has done most of the work making it
I could about 2 acres into oilseed production. With a small tractor with a PTO to run the press... could work.
sure at $3.99 per pint. every pint i used in that car would be a major hurdle....i would have to decide....hmmmm....do i taste this or drive on it?
But of course. I think old cooking oil is a nuisance to dispose of and restaurants let renderers take it for free. Hey, you could pull into your local grease/fat renderer and tank up on it
I'm first in line. :-)
I agree, it will work, but how much can you make? Enough for yourself. You won't be solving the energy crisis, though.
Not that you shouldn't make it. I suppose if enough people were more self-sufficient, it might take the pinch off the petroleum industry.
Wow! This is great! I suppose soon I'll be paying $20 a litre for extra virgin spanish olive oil, and the whole continent smelling like french fries. Soon our automobiles will be endangering not only our lungs and our environment, but consuming our actual food supplies. Shades of 'I Robot'.
You would be consuming petroleum to grow it. You are growing the middleman. Far better to consume petroleum directly than to grow crops with it and make it into fuel for cars, such as ethanol and bio-diesel
Fertilizer is made with oil
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