Would you useVeggie Oil Vehicle?Vegetable oil canpower your vehicle, T to Fuel Your his may sound strange, but you can run your diesel car or truck on vegetable oil and nearly eliminate your use of traditional gas or diesel. For cer- By Tim Wacker but growing, part of the population that’s passionate about using grease to make their cars go. These people are drawn to this al- ternative fuel because it saves them money,but the effects on tain people, veggie oil could lead to major savings. Called veggie cars or grease cars, gives them more control of their transpor- tation fuel needs and makes a difference forthe environment these vehicles have fuel systems modified to burn both diesel fuel and straight vegetable the environment. All this may sound too good to beare still unclear. oil. The idea is actually a modern twist on the original intention for the diesel engine. true, and in some ways it is. Is it the most But even proponents say veggie oil is not for everyone because of the extra work it requires. Nevertheless, there is a small, jon hardesty; above: istockphoto/steven kratochwillMarcos Markoulatos and Ty Martin,of Lawrence, Kan., run their truckson filtered waste vegetable oil.
greentransportationenvironmentally friendly alternative fuel? It’s a lifestyle, attracting the bohemian in ens like butter when it is cold. That meansShould new vegetable oil or used grease be a growing number of Americans who, for the engine has to be warmed up before itused? And here’s the real kicker: It’s techni- environmental, financial and/or political can run on vegetable oil, and the veggie oilcally illegal (see “Veggie Oil Vehicles and reasons, bristle over using fossil fuels for must be flushed out before the engine coolsthe Law”). So, before you start hoarding transportation. Whatever your motivation down. Otherwise, you will have cloggedWesson Oil, there are a few things you might be, if you have a diesel engine, it fuel lines when you next try to start the car.should consider. could run on cooking oil. To convert a diesel engine to run on veggie oil, you have several options.Want Fries with That? The conversion hardware can To get a sense of how this be bought in kit form from a va-works, consider the example of riety of manufacturers. GreasecarTy Martin. On Thursdays and The main attraction for many Vegetable Fuel Systems ofSundays the Lawrence, Kan., auto Easthampton, Mass., estimatesmechanic parks behind his favor- veggie oil fans is that it’s they’ve sold about 4,000 of theirite restaurant and heads inside for conversion kits over the past fewa hamburger and fries. As he eats not a fossil fuel. years at prices ranging from $995with friends at the bar, kitchen to $2,000. Lovecraft Bio-Fuels ofstaff fill a tank in the back of his truck with In fact, in the 1890s German inventor Los Angeles, Calif., and Portland, Ore.,grease that was used to cook food just the Rudolf Diesel originally designed his en- which sells kits and installs them, estimatesday before. An hour later, truck and driver gine to run on vegetable oil. it has sold about 1,800 units, starting athead home, both smelling faintly of burnt $425 for the kit alone and $870 installed.peanut oil. The used grease then propels A New Kind of Kit Car (Lovecraft also sells a one-tank system.)Martin’s pickup all over town, all for free The big challenge with using vegeta- Some people custom build veggie cars.(except the food). ble oil in Diesel’s engine was, and is, cold Martin saw his friend Marcos Markoulatos’ For Martin, burning vegetable oil means weather. Vegetable oil works best when it is Greasecar kit in operation and decided hemore than maintaining a dual fuel system. hot — ideally 160 degrees — and it thick- could do the conversion himself. He endedVeggie Oil Vehicles and the LawExcited about the idea of running your car on veggie oil? Maybe even • Fuel taxes on “traditional” fuels (gasoline, petroleum diesel)free waste oil? Before you get too excited, carefully consider this prob- help fund the building and maintenance of roads used bylem: It’s technically illegal, although that may be changing soon. veggie oil cars. Using vegetable oil as a fuel without paying How could something so simple and well-intentioned cause legal fuel tax on it is considered tax evasion.problems? Here’s the skinny: • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) frowns on using vegetable oil in engines designed to burn diesel fuel because the emissions are not the same. If, for example, someone were to de- velop an unusual chemical concoction to burn in gas or diesel engines, it could cause toxic air pollution if it weren’t tested and approved prior to use. All states have a fuel tax of some kind and the federal government also taxes fuel, but enforce- ment of tax laws regarding vegetable oil as a fuel are inconsistent. When it comes to biodiesel, which is basically chemically processed vegetable oil that mimics petroleum diesel fuel, federal tax shawn schreiner laws are straightforward: You’ve got to pay taxes Golden Fuel Systems (Springfield, MO) on it no matter where it comes from. founder Charlie Anderson displays an While enforcement of these laws has tradition- example of “good grease” suitable for ally been lax, a few recent cases have received at- use in a veggie-oil-powered vehicle. tention and may signal a new level of concern:112 Mother Earth News December 2007/January 2008
up with a used gas tank behind histruck seat and rubber heating hosesrunning from his truck radiatorthrough the tank — all for $250.Veggie-capable Vehicles Finding just the right car to burnvegetable oil can be more challenging.First and foremost, it has to have adiesel engine. The best cars to converttend to be older models, according to jon hardesty (3)Lovecraft. The exception appears tobe the Volkswagen Jetta TDI — evenmore recent editions can be convertedeasily. Among the better older modelsfor veggie conversions is the Mercedes Filtering waste vegetable oil and fueling the300 SD, particularly model years 1981 to sions. These trucks easily accommo- truck is a family event for Marcos Markoulatos1985. Greasecar, on the other hand, says date the necessary plumbing changes and daughter Eva Marie.the majority of its kits go in newer domes- for burning vegetable oil.tic trucks or Volkswagen cars. Diesel trucks get plenty of power out of New or Used Cooking Oil? For converts less concerned about sav-vegetable oil. Martin said his 1990 Dodge Vegetable oil enthusiasts love the idea of ing money, or perhaps skeptical about us-Ram pickup made the switch without slow- free fuel, so they take used cooking oil res- ing waste oil, brand-new vegetable oil ising down. Lovecraft and Greasecar both taurants would otherwise throw away. To another option. But you’ll pay a premium.said the Ford F250 diesel models from find a veggie-car-friendly eatery near you, At your local supermarket it can cost $6 a1995 to 2000 are well-suited for conver- visit www.fillup4free.com. gallon or more. The cheapest oil right now • In May 2007 in Charlotte, N.C., Robert Teixeira was fined There is also a concern that vegetable oil cars might violate the $1,000 for failing to pay taxes on the vegetable oil he burns in federal Clean Air Act. The Act bans tinkering with auto emissions by his 1981 Mercedes. anyone who doesn’t have EPA certification to do so, according to • Two months before that David and Eileen Wetzel, of Decatur, spokesperson John Millett. Using vegetable oil instead of diesel fuel Ill., were told they needed to be licensed as a special fuel sup- could quite likely affect the emissions from your car, Millett says. plier if they wanted to keep “Also, a vehicle has to be modi- driving their veggie car or face fied to run on vegetable oil.” Jones possible felony fines for not says. “Such a modification is not paying fuel taxes. legal unless it has been through If you buy veggie oil that is in- an emissions certification proce-tended to be used as fuel, the taxes dure — this is different than justhave already been paid by your registering the fuel — to ensure thatsupplier. Dave Dunham, owner of German inventor Rudolf Diesel the modified vehicle itself meetsSmarter Fuel in Bethlehem, Pa., is emission standards.”paying a lot of taxes on the used originally designed his engine With some state laws still veryvegetable oil he gathers for free. much up in the air, there are ways bumper stickers: needasticker.com (2)He collects hundreds of thousands to run on ... vegetable oil! to play it safe if you’re not sure ifof gallons of oil from about 1,000 you should be paying taxes or not.restaurants stretched across five On his Web site www.biodieselnow.states. Then he cleans it up and resells it for about $1.95 per gallon, com, Graydon Blair, owner of Utah Biodiesel Supply, a parts distributordepending on state taxes. Since the taxes are already accounted for, for home biodiesel brewers, suggests you keep a log of the gallons ofconsumers don’t need to report and pay the fuel tax individually. biodiesel or veggie oil you burn. Then if you do get into trouble with the The federal government does require you to fill out the neces- state tax authorities you can produce the log and tell them you plan onsary registration forms to make biodiesel for your car but it does not paying at tax time. State and federal income tax forms have provisionscharge a fee for doing so, according to Enesta Jones, a spokesperson for paying fuel taxes, Blair says. (Consult your tax advisor for details onfor the EPA. how to best handle taxes in your state. — Mother) www.MotherEarthNews.com December 2007/January 2008 113
Straight Talk on Biodiesel, Veggie OilWilliam Kemp is the author of Biodiesel Basics and Beyond (see Page 135 to order), a is soybean oil, which can be bought in 250how-to on making fuel from all manner of oil-producing plants. While he is an advocate gallon containers for about $3.40 a gallon.of the technology, he offers a sobering assessment of its limitations in his answers here: A company called Smarter Fuel, based inMechanically, what is the difference between grease cars and biodiesel cars? Bethlehem, Pa., refines used vegetable oilWhat it boils down to is biodiesel can be used with the existing fuel infrastructure of from restaurants across the mid-Atlanticany diesel vehicle, while straight vegetable oil can’t be combusted in a modern diesel states and resells it for $1.95 per gallon.engine without modifications. Also, in grease cars you need a system to preheat the oil The cost of the new and refined oilsand filter it before the fuel can be combusted. does translate into fewer headaches thanAnd what about the costs? burning free used vegetable oil, which canStraight vegetable oil has the advantage in that the cost and complexity of the fuel have bread crumbs, water, even the occa-drops dramatically, compared to biodiesel. If you look at the costs of making biodiesel, sional chunk of catfish in it. But there are70 percent of the cost of the fuel is the feedstock — that’s the canola, soy or peanuts different schools of thought on how cleanthat are used to eventually produce the fuel. The rest of the cost is processing that used vegetable oil needs to be before youfeedstock. You don’t have those costs with straight-oil fuel, although capital costs burn it in an engine.must be amortized. One restaurant prefilters the oil forWhich is easier to use? Martin and Markoulatos to clean it up aBiodiesel. You still need some petrodiesel or biodiesel fuel to run a vegetable oil car. bit, and then the two tinkerers pour the oilThe car has to start on diesel and it has to be shut down on diesel. So owning a vege- into a 55-gallon plastic drum with a spigottable oil car becomes more of a tinker’s game. 6 inches from the bottom. They let the oilOnce the oil is hot, what’s the differencebetween the two fuels?Once the temperature of the vegetable oilgets to 176 degrees, viscosity of the oilcomes down to the level of diesel fuel and itbecomes much like straight diesel fuel.Will vegetable oil cars ever be a main-stream mode of transportation?In a word, no. I think using virgin vegetable oilor waste vegetable oil is always going to bea fringe sector of the transportation industry.Automakers will never get behind it.Which is better for the environment?With biodiesel you have the farming and har-vesting for the feedstock that’s eventually pro-cessed to make the biodiesel. That has to betaken into consideration in the overall formulafor the carbon released when you burn it.Then there’s also the toxicity of the chemicalsused to make biodiesel — those can endangerthe environment. The beauty of using wasteoil is it’s something that’s already been usedand you’re giving it a second life, providinglow carbon and air pollution emissions.Do you support one fuel over another?I’m not a big advocate of using food crops forfuel. Even if we exploited all the biofuel po-tential in North America it would be no betterthan enforcing higher fuel efficiency standardsfor all vehicles. And does anyone really need Because vegetable oil is less explosivea 300 horsepower car to get to work? Energy than gasoline or diesel at normalefficiency first, energy generation second; that temperatures, carrying an extra jug of oilis the sustainable path. in your vehicle is not hazardous.114 Mother Earth News December 2007/January 2008
greentransportation shawn schreiner (2)Running a truck on vegetable oil does not decrease power significantly. This veggie oilpowered Ford F250 easily handles a camper trailer.sit for a week before drawing off everything “People think vegetable oil and biodie-above the dregs. Before they pour that into sel are the same; they are not,” says Joshuatheir trucks, they filter it again. Tickell, author of Biodiesel America. Pollution-wise, the differences be- “Modern diesels are not made to run ontween burning new and used vegetable straight vegetable oil (SVO). The SVOoil are less stark. William Kemp, in his concept distracts from the huge potentialbook Biodiesel Basics and Beyond (see Page of the biodiesel industry. There is no pros-135 to order), says that new and used oil pect for straight vegetable oil being a reli-just about tie on soot and nitrogen oxide able fuel,” Tickell says.emissions, while waste oil puts out more There are numerous fans of veggie oilcarbon monoxide, and new oil puts out fuel, though, who have come to the oppo-more carbon dioxide. site conclusion and feel just as strongly. When comparing vegetable oil emis- “Our conversion kits are developed andsions to petrodiesel, the results are more tested by our engineers for each specific ap-mixed. Diesel exhaust puts out more soot plication to ensure compatibility, and wethan veggie oil, while putting out about have many customers who have been run-10 percent fewer hydrocarbons. But these ning successfully for almost 10 years,” saysmeasurements, Kemp says, don’t account Justin Carven, founder of Greasecar.for the biggest environmental argument (These contrasting perspectives are butin favor of vegetable oil to fuel cars: global one example of the contentious and evolv-warming. You have to grow plants to pro- ing debate about the short- and long-termduce vegetable oil so the carbon dioxide feasibility of biofuels. For more on their po-emitted by burning it is captured as a new tential compared to other energy options,crop of oil plants grows. see Page 50. — Mother) Then there is veggie oil’s close cousin With all this in mind, the decision(some would say rival) — biodiesel — which to use vegetable oil for fuel is one tois vegetable oil chemically processed to consider carefully. Concerns about tax-work like petrodiesel in standard diesel en- es and EPA regulations are significant.gines without modifications. It is available, And for many people, filtering the veg- 8666usually blended with petrodiesel, at hun- gie oil and the potential for mechanicaldreds of filling stations across the country. problems would be inconvenient. ButBiodiesel proponents say veggie oil fuel, for those who can embrace these chal-particularly waste oil, will always be a low- lenges, veggie oil is a fun and empow-volume, backyard enterprise. ering solution. www.MotherEarthNews.com December 2007/January 2008 115