Powering a Diesel Vehicle on Vegetable Oil
In 1898 Rudolph Diesel showed off his invention at France’s Exhibition fair. It was the first diesel engine, and it ran on peanut oil. It’s no wonder that automotive masters are returning to these roots, popping up everywhere with new ways to power a diesel car or truck with recycled vegetable oil.
Not Biodiesel, Just Straight Vegetable Oil
Biodiesel is a great way to run any non-modified diesel vehicle on vegetable oil. But, making biodiesel requires chemicals, start-up costs, and a garage full of equipment. Users often purchase it from a professional, just like any other fuel. It’s greener, but can be more expensive than using standard diesel.
The attraction to running a vehicle on straight vegetable oil (SVO) is that the oil does not have to be processed chemically. The only processing needed is good filtering, since SVO, also called waste vegetable oil or WVO, is obtained free of charge when restaurants are done using it for cooking. The other two elements needed are adding equipment to the vehicle to enable it to run on grease, then finding an oil source.
Dual Tank and Single Tank SVO/WVO Conversion Systems
“Conversion” isn’t the best way to describe the process of altering a vehicle’s fuel system to allow it to use vegetable oil since cars and trucks that run on grease can run on standard diesel and biodiesel too. A better term would be adding a “dual fuel” system.
The fuel components need tinkering because SVO needs to be hot before entering the engine to make it the same viscosity as diesel fuel. Vegetable oil hardens more easily and tends to be thicker than diesel, and thick fuel can damage an engine.
Various SVO systems heat the oil differently. Companies like Greasecar and Dino Fuel Alternatives recommend putting a second fuel tank in the vehicle’s trunk or bed. This extra tank is specially designed to heat the vegetable oil, so it’s thin when it enters the engine. The stock fuel tank remains in the vehicle and can run regular diesel, and special controls allow the driver to switch between diesel and SVO.
Another method, the single tank system, can be used in some circumstances. Companies like Elsbett and PlantDrive offer systems that employ the stock tank to hold either diesel or SVO and instead modify the fuel injectors and other parts to heat the fuel. Although these systems save cargo space by eliminating a fuel tank, they are not as fail-safe as the two-tank system and are recommended on older diesel cars in moderate climates (for instance a 1985 Mercedes in southern California). For the latest model cars and big trucks (Ford F-250s and the like), the two tank system is the safe bet, especially if the SVO user’s hometown gets cold in the winter.
Best Places to Find Waste Vegetable Oil
The key to finding a good oil source is to pursue quality rather than quantity. Ideally, the oil will be liquid at room temperature, and non-hydrogenated. Any type of vegetable oil normally used for cooking may be used, be it canola, peanut, or corn oil. The higher quality the restaurant, the better the cooking oil is likely to be. Chinese restaurants, for example, tend to use high-quality oil and change it often. The result is liquid oil that doesn’t have too many food particles or other debris.
Steer clear of fast food restaurants, since they use mostly hydrogenated oils that could be in solid form, making it hard to filter. Getting it into a fuel tank could be even harder.
Be sure to get permission from the restaurant’s owner before taking vegetable oil. Usually, owners are happy to give it away, since they may have to pay to dispose of it. An SVO user should coordinate with the restaurant owner by setting up a regular time and method of pick up. Then the owner knows, for instance, to put a five-gallon container by the back door every Tuesday evening.
Filtering Recycled Vegetable Oil
Perhaps the most important step in using SVO is to filter properly. Without good filtering methods, the vehicle’s fuel line and filter will be clogged with food particles and debris left by the restaurant’s cooking staff.
The good news is that filtering doesn’t require expensive equipment and can be done at home or even on the spot at the restaurant. Setting up the right system of hoses, filters, and drums, along with some trial and error, will ensure good methods. For some additional equipment costs, Greasecar even sells filtering kits that mount to the vehicle and pump and filter the oil in one step, right into a container or the vehicle’s SVO fuel tank.
Get Kudos for Being Green While Saving Money Too
Recycling vegetable oil for transportation saves the environment from harsh diesel fumes while saving the driver money. After initial vehicle conversion costs, the user can save thousands of dollars in fuel costs over time. It’s true what they say, it’s not easy being green; using SVO has to be a love and a hobby since it’s not as easy as stopping at the local gas station. But the rewards are priceless and empowering, knowing how to be green and save green too.
Biodiesel Fuel: One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Fuel
Biodiesel fuel is one of several alternative energy technologies derived from biomass. Biomass-based energy can be produced using a wide variety of organic material, including plant matter, vegetable oils, animal fats, and waste products. According to oregon.gov, plants store energy from the sun in the form of carbohydrates through the process of photosynthesis, and energy is released from the stored carbohydrates as the plants decompose, creating an opportunity to capture a source of renewable energy.
Biodiesel Production and Distribution
Biodiesel is mainly produced from vegetable oils and animal fats through a process called esterification. The oils or fats are combined with an alcohol and a catalyst, often methanol and sodium hydroxide, to create methyl esters, or crude biodiesel. The esters are further refined and separated from contaminants to produce pure biodiesel fuel. Biodiesel can be sold in a pure form or blended with traditional diesel fuel in a variety of proportions, much like ethanol.
Since biodiesel is produced using highly renewable and abundant sources, production facilities can be located nearly anywhere and transported to distribution facilities via truck, rail, or ship. Production facilities are currently located throughout the United States, with the highest concentration in the continental Midwest. According to afdc.energy.gov, pipeline technology suited to the transport of biodiesel fuel has not yet been perfected.
Advantages of Biodiesel
Biodiesel fuel production creates a highly sustainable balance in the area of emissions and environmental stability. To produce plant-based biodiesel fuel, plants must be grown at the same rate at which they are harvested, and the plants themselves serve to reduce the gasses emitted by burning the fuel. This is vastly preferable to traditional fossil fuel based energy production that cannot replace the resources it harvests and does nothing to counterbalance its own emissions.
Biodiesel fuel is also non-toxic, making it safer to handle and reducing the environmental risk of spills and accidents.
Drawbacks of Biodiesel
Although biodiesel production serves to nearly offset its harmful emissions, the fuel emits a greater amount of Nitrogen Oxide than other alternative fuels, such as hydrogen and natural gas.
Pure biodiesel fuels and blends with lower traditional diesel content are not yet approved by auto manufacturers for use in diesel engines, due to the higher level of engine wear caused by the oil-based fuel. Issues such as sticky deposits and lube oil gelling are challenges that biodiesel manufacturers must overcome before the fuel can be commercially viable on an international scale.
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