Saturday, January 27, 2007

Vegetable Oil: One Man's Approach to Filling Up the Tank

When a relative named Ben from my wife's side of the family, told me he was converting his big Dodge Ram Diesel pickup truck to run on used vegetable oil, I was a little concerned. He's a young guy with a better half who just turned 22 today, and they also have a one-year-old baby. Actually, I have a lot of faith in them, so maybe I was just being suspicious of alternative fuels. I mean, going to a restaurant and filling up your truck? It sounded a little odd.

The part I wasn't thrilled about was the plan to drive the family from Oregon to Chicago this past summer shortly after the conversion took place. The idea was to stop at fast food restaurants along the way, and it seemed a little reckless and bold. Then again, I hitchhiked over 25,000 miles around America starting when I was 17 and that was a little reckless and bold, too. Things appear differently when you're young.

Well, we just got back from visiting Ben, the birthday girl, and the baby, and their trip to Chicago apparently went well. I even got a tour of the pickup truck. This fascinated me so much that I asked for a pen and paper to write some of the details down.

The outfit that installed the new equipment is called Enviofuel. The systems designer is named Nate Gunn. His company has probably done around 25 to 50 vehicles by now. I believe this truck was the first that was worked on in his two-vehicle shop. Up till then he had worked on them outside. It's the classic old story of the young entrepreneur starting out. ( It's in Corvallis at 541-231-1499.) The company is trying to get a grant so it can design its own parts. Right now, everything is converted from parts made for diesel trucks, etc...Okay, so how did it look?

Behind the cab of Ben's pickup truck there was a 55-gallon square tank and a bunch of pumps and hoses to retrieve the oil from the restaurants and filter it. Before it will combust, the oil must be heated over 120 degrees - Ben mentioned 150. That is accomplished with heaters and a hookup to the coolant system.

When you first leave home, you run the truck on regular diesel or bio-diesel for around 6 to 10 miles to heat up the engine and the vegetable oil. Then you make the switch. The oil gets around 10% less miles per gallon, but it emits a quarter of the toxins, etc...that regular fuel does.

It works best if you have the oil before hand, so Ben throws some extra tanks in the back for long trips. That gives more time for the impurities to settle out. Simply put: You don't want onion rings near your engine rings. For the scientists out there the fuel has to have less than 10 microns of impurities per....hmm, my notes don't say per what. Oh well, having the extra oil also means you don't run low and have to drop by restaurants asking for more.

Of course, on the trip to Chicago that became necessary, and that's what they did. They drove all the way there and back basically on vegetable oil, getting 500 to 600 miles on a tank. Of course, if this really caught on, there might be a supply problem, but for now you can find plenty of restaurants only too glad to give you the oil for free. It is basically part of their garbage. The trip to Chicago went great and the truck runs fine.

Suddenly, this struck me as how mankind has acted for centuries, especially in America where they called it Yankee ingenuity. And it's usually driven - in this case literally - by young people. Most older people would probably avoid the extra hassle, pay the gas station, and skip the conversion cost. But think of the money you could save if you needed to travel a lot and you were just starting out in life? Decades of not going to the gas station. Wow. This was a testiment to young ideas and interesting solutions.

By the way, the savings in this case have already paid for the system and it's only been a few months. Plus, here's a young man who has beaten the oil companies. He drives what would be a gas-guzzler, or at least a diesel-guzzler, and he's getting most of his fuel for free. Isn't that impressive?

Okay, it's time to finish with the question everyone has: Yes, the exhaust does smell like French fries. If you go to a fried chicken place for the oil, your car's exhaust will smell like fried chicken. Ditto for burgers, etc...What it won't smell like is something Exxon sold you.

If you had to find a way to feel guilty, I suppose you could say you're profiting from Americans' obesity problem, but that's a hell of a lot better than the thought of pumping money into the Middle East. Besides, the oil supply could change drastically in the event of another war, but I seriously doubt Americans will stop eating French fries. Enviofuel


At 3:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Less than 10 microns impurities means that any particles of dirt or 'non-oil 'in the oil, has to be smaller than 10 microns across. Filtering the grease through paper, like a coffee filter, likely works better than waiting for the sediment to 'settle' to the bottom while you go bumping down the highway. My question, for someone anyone, what's the difference between a micron and an angstrom?

On to other notes: "Besides, the oil supply could change drastically in the event of another war ..."

Uh, you got it sort of cart-before-the-horse, speaking of effect and cause. There could be another staged 'war event' for the drastic change in the oil supply -- now that it is getting known the oil barons took the money and are trying to run ... and there's no oil left.

At 4:02 PM, Blogger Bill McDonald said...

Oh, it goes through a couple of filters. it's not just settling.
As for the oil being gone, you'll know that's true the minute we stop caring about the Middle East.

At 6:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

...what's the difference between a micron and an angstrom?

An angstrom is one ten-thousandth of a micron. A micron is one one-thousandth of a millimeter, or one one-millionth of a meter.

At 4:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So an angstrom is a tenth of a nanometer ...?

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