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Old 04-23-2003, 03:22 PM
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Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: Santa Clara, CA
Posts: 450
Biodiesel good article

This appeared in the New York Times and I thought it was worth passing on as it lists a source for the conversion parts you need to accomplish it. (

April 22, 2003
Recipe for Car Power: Heat Vegetable Oil, Flip Switch and Go.

OS ANGELES, April 21 "I wouldn't do this to a $30,000 car unless I was confident that it would work."

With that, John Lin, owner of a Los Angeles fast-food franchise, opened the door of an opulent white Ford Excursion.

Powered by a seven-liter turbo-diesel engine that delivers just 13 miles a gallon, this oversize S.U.V. seemed the quintessential environmentalist's target. Yet soon, Mr. Lin will be paying less to fuel it than he would pay if he owned a Toyota Prius, which supplements gasoline with electricity. As an added benefit, he will sharply reduce the pollution.

Mr. Lin will not use a radical new mileage-boosting technology, but rather he will use simple vegetable oil, the same cheap, plentiful and clean-burning fuel that Rudolf Diesel used to power his first engine at the 1900 Paris World's Fair.

Normally, a restaurateur like Mr. Lin would have to pay someone to haul off the 10 gallons of vegetable oil used each day in his fryers. The oil would be dumped in a landfill, or perhaps used in animal feed. Instead, Mr. Lin will filter his oil and pour it into a heated auxiliary tank on the Excursion.

He will then start the vehicle on regular diesel, and after a few minutes, when the vegetable oil becomes more viscous in the heater, a manual switch will direct it to the diesel engine. From there, the only detectable difference will be the faint odor of French fries, and a noticeable lack of diesel stench.

The change in odor, however, is not the only benefit to be gained. In 1998, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory released a study on a fuel called biodiesel. Essentially vegetable oil with methanol and lye added to aid cold-weather flow and remove glycerin, biodiesel results in fewer harmful emissions than petroleum-based diesel.

Carbon monoxide emissions are reduced by 43 percent, hydrocarbons by 56 percent, particulates by 55 percent and sulfurs, a particular problem with petroleum diesel, are reduced by 100 percent.

Typically, biodiesel fuel costs at least as much as regular diesel. But straight vegetable oil is essentially free; Mr. Lin says most restaurant owners are more than happy to get rid of it. And unlike biodiesel, it does not require methanol and lye. It does, however, require a fairly simple conversion system that consists of a vegetable oil tank and a fuel heater.

A couple of years ago, after much online research, Mr. Lin bought a 1983 Mercedes 300SD Turbodiesel for $3,000 and got in touch with a diesel enthusiast, Charlie Anderson. Mr. Anderson, a farmer in Drury, Mo., had just founded a company called Greasel. For $500, Mr. Anderson sold Mr. Lin one of his first vegetable-oil-to-diesel conversion kits and coached Mr. Lin on installing it.

"I said, If it blows up, it blows up," Mr. Lin said, "and I'm only out $3,000. But I installed the system, flipped the switch, and sure enough, the thing works."

Mr. Lin found that vegetable oil led to no noticeable loss in power or mileage. In fact, he said, it smoothed the engine's idle. This came as no surprise to Mr. Anderson, who has now installed hundreds of systems in a variety of diesel vehicles Volkswagen TDI's, tractors, large Dodge four-by-fours and even a used Greyhound bus. In addition, Greasel has sold hundreds more of its units to do-it-yourselfers.

"Even if people are paying the same for this as diesel," he said, "it's just so much better for the environment. A dog can lick this stuff right off the ground."

If biodiesel or straight vegetable oil are so much better as fuels, why aren't they in widespread use? Simple economics is how Russ Teall, a biodiesel refiner and president of Biodiesel Industries, sees it. "Basically the cost of virgin vegetable oil is too high," he said. "It costs from $1.65 to $2 a gallon. At the wholesale level, petroleum diesel varies from 60 cents to $1.20 in California."

Mr. Teall also says a lack of transportation and refining infrastructure have discouraged a shift to biofuel.

But Joe Jobe, president of the National Biodiesel Board, said this was changing rapidly as a result of smaller refining plants and a worldwide glut of vegetable oil.

"The price of vegetable oils and diesels are beginning to come closer because of the growing demand for soy protein for food," Mr. Jobe said. "When you grind up soybeans, you get 80 percent soy meal and 20 percent oil." Furthermore, he said, biodiesel can also be made easily from waste restaurant oil.

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