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Running Vehicles on Vegetable Oil? 48

the green giant asks: "There has been a lot of info on alternative energy powered vehicles lately, and this is good. However, most of us still drive the old-fashioned petroleum burning kind of cars. How hard will it be for us (the hackers) to take the lead in switching to innovative, replenishable energy sources? Well now it looks like there is a diesel/veggyoil HOWTO at The VeggyVan Website in the form of a book: From the Fryer to the Fuel Tank. I am ordering it now, so I haven't gotten the chance to read more than is on the website. Apparently you cannot merely pour vegetable oil in every diesel engine without problems, but you can (and there are instructions in the book) make your own biodiesel at home, and they claim to have gotten the price down to $.50 / gallon. Also, the book is supposed to contain instructions on how to modify any diesel engine to run off straight vegetable oil. I wonder how difficult this is to do. Has anyone read this book and care to comment on it?" Wow! I'm stoked that people are actually getting alternative fuel and energy sources into practical and everyday devices.

Fossil fuels will not last forever, we all know this, so it's great to see a breakthru like this one. While this probably won't yet take the world by storm, what do you think the automotive industry will look like in 10 years if technologies like this become commonplace in another 2-5 years?

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Running Vehicles on Vegetable Oil?

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    It maters which country you are in. In France and Italy something like 50% of all cars is diesel. The problem is more that one needs hugh amounts of land to produce the oil.
  • i found This [] article that shows real world use of the veggies. It claims that 25% of the oil will be veggie oil, and that you can get it NOW at a local gas station here in the bay area!!!
  • Yes, but vegetables are renewable. Fossil fuels are not. ;)
  • Got me there. I meant it "in the relative sense". Honestly? 10,000 of these things running in the US by 2006 would be "more commonplace" than the 1 to 10 that there are now. Even so, I'm more enthused at the fact that there are people out there still looking for alternatives, more anything else.

    Sorry about the confusion, there.

  • ....that's what the linked article is all about!
  • The fast food oil car is reality. A pair of gents drove one across the country recently, "refilling" it at fast food places (who apparently would give him the used stuff just for the asking).
  • For the majority of (US/north america) based people who have cars running on Gasoline: ethanol is fairly easy to make at home (you need a special goverment license to make enough for your car, but that isn't a big deal). All modern cars have to run fine on 10% ethanol, but often gas you buy already has that. Ford sells vechicals designed to run on e-85, which is 85% ethanol, and I know where several E-85 pumps are.

    Old carbrated cars were easy to modify to run on ethanol, just replace the carb with a 4 barrel, adjust half for gas and half for ethanol. Computer cars are more difficult, because you have to programgram the computer and you don't get source. (There are efforts to re-write car computers as open source, but so far they have not worked better then OEM)

    The best things you can do today is refuse to buy a car that isn't design to run on E-85 or other renewable fuel. Ford sells them, so when you look at GM, tell the salesmen you like it, but your gonna buy the Ford due to E-85. Remember, one person demanding e85 isn't worth bothering with. a few thousand lost sales due to e-85 hits the bottom line.

  • "1. How much petroleum (fertiliser and fuel) and land use does it take to make a gallon of used french-fry oil?"

    No more than it takes if you pour it out of the fryer into the garbage can or drain or whatever. This way you take something that already exists and, instead of just throwing it away, get more use out of it and keep it from clogging up municipal sewage systems as well, which is a real problem anywhere you have a restaurant or three.

    Not to mention that the exhaust smells like french fries :-) (Really)

  • The air-powered car is a great idea, but I wouldn't count on seeing it come to the U.S. any time soon, at least not as a car. Vehicle safety laws in the U.S. are some of the strictest in the world and any car which could actually run on compressed air would probably have to be so light it couldn't be considered a safe car.

    It's conceivably possible that a motorcycle class vehicle could be released on the U.S. market that ran on compressed air, but a full-fledged car is unlikely.

    A while back I read a fascinating book Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea by Gary Kinder. The book talked about a somewhat eccentric genius (whose name escapes me at the moment) who came up with a technique of retrieving gold from a shipwreck too deep to be reached using conventional means. At any rate, one of the anecdotes that showed his cleverness involved his modifying a diesel Mercedes car to run on French fry oil which he was able to pick up quite cheap from fast food joints. I imagine the problems that plagued his vehicle would also afflict any car running on vegetable oil, which were that the car always smelled like a fast food joint and that it's emissions couldn't possibly have been quite up to the standards enforced by the various clean air laws.

  • A better plan might be to take the used fry oil, mix it with old wheat flour (thrown away at mills) and corn or rice cuttings (also thrown away) and flavorings, some water and salt, apply gentle heat to bake, and crumble up for dogfood. Sell the premium dogfood (don't think so? check how commercial dogfood is made...) for cash, say seventy-five cents a pound in hundred pound lots. Use cash to buy regular fuel, or anything else.

    Sounds like a business plan. Three years ago you could have gotten $30 million if you promised to sell it over the internet...

  • For CO2 pollution, this is a huge step forward - because the net amount you're putting into the environment is Zero. (not counting processing costs, of course)

    The problem with burning oil (and coal) is that you're taking carbon from inside the earth, where it's reasonably inert (has no effect on the environment) and putting it into the air (in the form of CO2)..

    The carbon from plant matter originally came from the air - so when you burn it, you're just recycling it - putting it back where it came from..

    This is a very good thing..
  • Well according to the man who modified his harley to run on vegetable oil it does smell like french fries.... a roving McD's.....
  • This is old news [] but if you can encourage the development of cars like this instead, you'd be improving things across the board.

    Using veggie oil in a diesel isn't big news. Diesel engines are vastly more efficient than modern motors. The problem being that modern refined gasoline is too explosive for them (this is a similar problem to using weapons-grade plutonium in a nuclear reactor). Diesel gas is cheaper per mile in a diesel engine, but also is less pure, and that translates into nastier pollution. I've been told (though I grew up on the waning tide of diesel engines so I never personally witnessed any of this, nor would I know how to do it) that you could run a diesel (very inefficiently) on peanut oil or even diluted peanut butter if absolutely required. Depending on exactly how they refine the veggie oil, this book could be useful or it could just be a minor curiousity that's really not worth doing.

    The $.50 / gallon is somewhat hard to swallow unless they mean cost of seeds to oil. Vegetable oil at the store is certainly more expensive than that. The other possible comparison could be $.50 per gallon in comparison to the mileage in a normal gasoline powered car. Without knowing exactly where that figure came from (I didn't scope out the site too deeply), it's hard to justify it in any reasonable way. Also of note is that they describe in that book how to actually grow the oil crops and then refine the oil.

    In general, I'd relegate this to the "interesting, but not particularly useful" catagory of information. I'd much rather have a light-weight plastic / carbon-fiber car running on Hydrogen Fuel Cells than an old (or even a new) diesel running on anything.

    Side question here, but does anyone know if they've been able to reinforce diesel engines to the point that they could take unleaded gasoline directly? If so, that'd be nearly as useful as veggie oil, since I seem to recall diesels being a fair margin more efficient. Just harder to start in a cold winter.

    ~Anguirel (lit. Living Star-Iron)
    "Veni; Vidi; Vi C++"
  • I stand corrected, then... I don't know the engineering specifics of the engines to any decent degree. I know only what I've heard from various auto-mechanics and my elders on the subject. I do know that the modern engines (Otto-cycle?) are more heavily reinforced against the combustion such that it can withstand the pressure of explosion. Similarly, you can't put jet-fuel in the tank as that's even more refined and would either not run at all, or if it did combust would severely damage your engine. I also know that diesel fuel is less-refined and pollutes more, those being the reasons for the switch away from diesel engines.

    ~Anguirel (lit. Living Star-Iron)
    "Veni; Vidi; Vi C++"
  • I mean, really.
    European (well, German anyway) companies have been testing it for ages. You can buy what they call biodiesel at the fuel station around the corner from where I used to live in Munich, Germany. That's an excption though, I admit. But it's easy enough to get. It's cheaper than regular diesel (a matter of taxation I assume), which in turn is way cheaper than petrol. For that reason, in contrast to the US, lots of European cars use diesel.
    Many European diesel cars are apparently able to go on biodiesel already, and quite a few farmers use it in their equipment.
    The reason you have to be careful about using it is that it's more aggressive and will dissolve your fuel lines and seals if they are made of the wrong stuff. But that's all. So you can basically convert any diesel car to run on biodiesel easy enough by changing everything (which is quite some work),
    One real life example of diesel cars: my dad has a new BMW 530d diesel and it kicks ass. Sitting in it you only notice the difference in sound when you can directly compare it to a petrol car, and it drives really excellent. Loads of torque. And the mileage is much better than his former BMW 523i petrol which was only a few years old as well.
  • Some time ago, cant remember was it year or two ago, there was this tiny article in finnish science magazine Tieteenkuvalehti [] that Mercedez Benz [] is making a prototype on car using as a source of energy. Allthou i cant verify this from the web.
  • I have not read your book, but...

    about a half a century ago a real smart chemical engineer got fed up with inefficient carburetors and built a carb that works. It was called the fish carburetor (the man's last name was fish I believe). The Fish carb was so outstanding because it was so simple(it has only three moving parts), so efficient, and because it could be easily adjusted to run on a variety of fuels. About ten years ago a machinist in Salt Lake City was making side drafted Fish Carbs for Hardly Davidsons. The result was Harleys that would run on anything. I watched a panhead running on used deep fryer oil. It smoked hard but it ran. Many people claim that Fish carbs will give you 100mpg+ but that is just untrue.

  • Check out: []
  • I like the idea of engines that burn alternative fuels, but I don't like the ones that burn food items. I agree that they are renewable, but it comes down to the idea that we are burning our food! If a major crop bug strikes, what will become more important, feeding the population or allowing the rich to drive their SUVs?
  • Here's a guy who's running an old diesel VW Rabbit on filtered vegetable oil with just scrapped parts.

    The Vegetarian VW []
  • I guess this brings new meaning to the term "Chip Wagon"!

    This is a good thing though, the oil industry needs some competition! Although many say that the oil will last for another good long time, do we really need to use it exclusively? That would be like using Windows exclusively when other better suited, cheaper alternatives exist. Sure Windows might have it's place, but it doesn't work the best for everything. Using the right tool for the job is what is important. Save the oil for places where it is better suited and use the new fuel technologies where they are best suited!
  • Corp. welfare, well yes, but can any alternative fuel source that has to be mass-produced really make it without help from the government? Fossil fuels have the advantage of economies of scale that ethanol will not be able to achieve without help, and while the cleanliness of ethanol is up for debate, the reduction in our dependence on supply from foreign soil is obvious. It is amazing to me that a country that is so adamant about bringing down monopolies in the free market does not mind doing business with a cartel.
  • I would buy soybean diesel if it were available, and I had a diesel car.
  • Look here on CNN [] for an article about BMW's efort on this front.

    They seem to think we will have hydro cars in prduction by 2010; most of the technology seems to be needed for increased safty of fuel storage.

  • My later father used vegatable oil with his car 20 years ago. However this wasn't as a fuel source.

    His job used to entail visiting schools, colledges and other council establishments in the county, and offer advice on cleaning and building maintenance. During his travels he often came across cleaning and other materials that were unusable and needed to be disposed of. The most common materials were drums vegetable oil past the use-by date and floor polish that had congealed.

    He hit on the idea of mixing the two together, and using the mixture, then sprayed the underside of the car as anti-corrosion agent. He nicknamed the mixture 'Jockum Juice', some colloquial Yorkshire term.

    So if anyone recalls metallic-green Vauxhall Viva driving around Yorkshire smelling of french-polish and a chippy, you know who to blame!

  • can get your diesel engine converted to run on Veggie oil for about £200 - that's about $250. About 15 years ago only one or two people were able to do it, but now many garages are able to do the conversion for you or refer you to someone who can. Plus, a company in the UK has come up with a simple 5 or 6 part engine upgrade which you can install yourself, but it's very expensive, weighing in at about Stg£800/IR£1,000. The fuel economy is good for European countries where the environment is really on the political agenda and petrol and diesel are taxed highly. Europeans also have the added benefit of increased engine economy - cars made for the American market are notoriously inefficient, usually just for the sake of pushing up the specs on paper.

    About 50 years ago, my Uncle converted all his farm machinery to run on methane gas, which he could easily collect from a pig sty he built especially for the task. He also ran a motorcycle off the stuff. Other alternatives include everything from ethanol to water cells.
    It does look like hydrogen is the wave of the future, however. Despite the dangers, drawbacks and difficulties, many car manufacturers, oil companies etc... have already begun talks on how best to minimise damage to profits while phasing in hydrogen pumps around Europe - I don't know about America. Recent reports have estimated that oil production in the West has already peaked - the US government figures you read are based on massaged figures; they assume a constant and steady growth in production from too many sites to be realistic, as well as factoring in as-of-yet unconfirmed sites. So the motives aren't anything near selfless.
    Regardless, it is likely that renewable fuel sources are destined to become common-place in the next few decades - at a tidy profit for the current moguls of the oil-based industry.

  • It is amazing to me that a country that is so adamant about bringing down monopolies in the free market does not mind doing business with a cartel. It's a "cartel" that sells us oil for less than it costs to drill for it on our own land. We might as well keep buying from them until they run out or wise up.

    Another factor is the Not-In-My-Back-Yard attitude of some environmental groups. Ruin a mile of wilderness in Alaska and there are howls of rage. Ruin a mile of wilderness in Saudi Arabia and nobody here cares. The message is that the planet can handle oil wells as long as we can't see them.

  • Ethanol is more expensive to produce than gasoline.

    10% Ethanol gas, required by the Federal EPA in many major cities, is only cheap because of huge subsidies from the Federal Government.

    This is one of the best examples available of corporate welfare in American politics. Nearly all of the Ethanol in America is produced by one company, the Archer Daniels Midland Corporation. (The same "ADM: Supermarket to the world!" that sponsors NBC's "Meet the Press").

    Since ADM is one of the single largest corporate campaign supporters (mostly for Democrats, but also for a lot of Republicans, including former presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton, as well as former presidential hopefuls Al Gore AND Bob Dole, and dozens of prominent Senators), it should come as a surprise to nobody that ADM is enjoying the benifits of these subsidies, and that these sam politicians (and some members of the press) cheerlead for the advancement of Ethanol over the eeeevil oil companies.

    The truth about Ethanol is that while it does slightly reduce CO and CO2 emissions (yay!), it also emits higher levels of other toxins, such as O3.

    For the moment, electric cars are also a poor alternative to gasoline. For several reasons:

    1. Battery technology has a long way to go before I can use an electric pickup truck to tow my boat 400 miles to the lake.
    2. Most of America's electricity (the source for charging these battery cars) is still generated by burning coal, which is far dirtier than burning gasoline.
    3. The batteries themselves are difficult to dispose of safely
    4. $35,000 gets you a car that is smaller than most $13,000 cars, with limited range, a very light (re; dangerous) frame, and expensive maintenence.

    Hydrogen induction is another popular choice to root for. The problem is, where are you going to get enough hydrogen? You can mine for methane deposits, but the process to convert methane to H2 also produces a shitload of CO2, which is one of the things we are trying to avoid. You can also seperate hydrogen from H2O using electricity... but then you are spending power to get hydrogen to get power, meaning you need another power source or you are talking about a good-old-fashioned perpetual motion scam.

    There's solar... if you only want to drive in southern states on sunny days.

    Obviously, as oil reserves start to run out (making it prohibitively expensive to get at the oil), probably sometime late in this Century, we will need to switch to another transportation power source. I suspect that if none of these alternate technologies are ready for prime time by then (and it looks like they won't be), we will burn propane and/or natural gas.

    Meanwhile, I am off to fire up the V6 3.3L engine of my truck to go fishing up north for Memorial Day weekend. It will cost me at least a good sixty bucks for gas to get to the lake and back... and it will be worth it. Later, all!

  • $0.50/gallon would be the cost to manufacture a gallon of gas.

    This is really expensive. Regular (non-oxygenated or 'clean' gas) costs approximately $0.15-$0.22 a gallon to produce when oil is $11/barrel. This is how gasoline prices went under a dollar in most places a year ago. (about $0.70 of gas prices consist of sales, excise and other taxes).

    So even before there is massive demand for vegatable oils, the price is too high. Then the supply/demand effect you describe takes place.
  • I went to fill up 2 days ago and they were giving away BioDiesel (5 gals) at the station that I went to in San Francisco (I think it was an Olympia). Wow.. if it wasn't so expensive ($3.25/gal).. and if my car took diesel... Apparently all the Airport shuttle buses already run on this stuff, and more public trans in san francisco is supposed to switch over soon.

  • Actually (God, you can't catch a break, can you?), IIRC jet fuel is pretty much kerosene, which is pretty much deisel fuel. Turbines aren't terribly picky. Barring some additives, I've been told you could heat your house, drive your truck, bunker your ship, fuel your Atlas rocket, and fly your F-16 from just about the same tank.

    Aviation gas, used in piston-engined aircraft, is another matter entirely.

  • by RhetoricalQuestion ( 213393 ) on Thursday May 24, 2001 @04:27PM (#199763) Homepage

    I'm still waiting for the compressed-air car [] to come North America.

    IMO, the air-powered car is one of the best ideas in a long time.

  • "they claim to have gotten the price down to $.50 / gallon"
    I sincerely doubt this statement can hold true. According to the rules of Supply and Demand, the higher the demand, the higher the price. If many people move to this renewable resource, the demand will certainly increase, and if supply stays constant, then the price will increase dramatically. Thats just what I think. I could be wrong, and I don't know how quickly the vegetable oil industry can ramp up production.
    - Hyperbolix
  • a sock monkey that would work for shares.
  • Taking used vegetable oil, methylating it to crack the bonds, and then burning it for motor fuel is the most energy inefficient thing I have seen in a long time. Consider:

    1. How much petroleum (fertiliser and fuel) and land use does it take to make a gallon of used french-fry oil?
    2. What does it cost in terms of energy to produce methyl alcohol and lye?
    3. By-products of this process (dilute gycerin and water contaminated with metallic stearates) are also considered toxic waste, and form a goodly percentage (roughly one third) of the volume converted.

    Simple economics should tell you that this is an emergency measure only, for extreme shortage conditions. Five dollars a gallon for fuel is not extreme enough to make this economic.

    A better plan might be to take the used fry oil, mix it with old wheat flour (thrown away at mills) and corn or rice cuttings (also thrown away) and flavorings, some water and salt, apply gentle heat to bake, and crumble up for dogfood. Sell the premium dogfood (don't think so? check how commercial dogfood is made...) for cash, say seventy-five cents a pound in hundred pound lots. Use cash to buy regular fuel, or anything else.

    Burning edible hydrocarbons for fuel. Who ever thought this up...

  • does not have to be food-based -
  • Gasoline powered cars outnumber diesel powered cars by a huge margin. I doubt that automobile manufacturers will be changing over to veggie power any time in the near or distant future.

    Dancin Santa
  • Actually, the problem seems to be that we are consuming fossil fuels faster than they are being replenished. One day the supply will run out and leave oil users high and dry. What will be necessary is the development of alternative energy sources to gradually replace fossil fuels in all aspects of energy production. It's very expensive to do this currently, and for certain problem areas (cars) it's near-impossible to find an adequate alternative to oil.

    This vegetable oil vehicle is not the answer as it requires massive energy expenditure to just get the oil to market.

    Most likely, electric will become the vehicle fuel of the future, and some sort of clean power plant (probably nuclear) will be used to supply the electricity.

    Dancin Santa
  • Many people claim that Fish carbs will give you 100mpg+ but that is just untrue

    Sure, but while you're riding your hog you can stop in at any greasy spoon and have the owner give you a fillup. For the price, it's probably equivalent to getting 100mph.

    Dancin Santa
  • Let's not forget that fuel consumption and emissions are not the only environmental impact a vehicle has over its lifecycle. You also have to take into account the energy and materials it takes to build the car and dispose of the car and the energy and materials it took to produce, store, and transport and store the fuel, etc. Alternative energy cars are not automatically superior to regular gasoline-powered cars, particularly if you're deciding between continuing to drive a gas-powered vehicle you already have and ditching your perfectly good gas-powered vehicle in favor of an alternative-powered vehicle.
  • I hate to say this, but that french fry oil is probably already getting recycled.

    When I was in HS (early 90s), I worked at a small KFC. Whenever we had greese to dispose of, we put it in a bucket (we had another bucket for fat and other chicken parts). At the end of the day, the fry cook had the job of taking the buckets and dumping them in 55 galon drums out back. About once a month or so, someone would come out and haul this stuff off and sell it for use in making makeup and soap and other stuff.

    Personally, my bigest question as far as biodiesel is concerned is emmissions. Diesel engines do not have catylitic converters. Even if they were required to have them, the technology is not in place. I know people where I am a grad student (Northwestern University), who are curently actively working on new technologies to go into such a device. The American auto manufacturers are interested in this sort of thing. They all used diesel engines in their PNGV [] concept cars.

    The EPA [] actually has ratings [] of various cars as far as emissions go and give the cars a score of 1-10. The Bentley Continental rates a 3 (where 10 is the best) and the Volkswagon TDI Golf, Jetta, and Bug are the only cars sold in the US to get a rating of 1, the worst.

  • Vegetable oil is a lot more viscous than diesel fuel, and doesn't atomize as well in the fuel injectors. This leads to worse combustion and more smoke/particulates. Converting the oil to methyl esters changes the characteristics so the fuel works better in typical diesel injectors.

    It's hard to see how using any waste product and getting good use out it with minimal added energy/effort can be called "grossly inefficient".

  • This vegetable oil vehicle is not the answer as it requires massive energy expenditure to just get the oil to market.
    Maybe not "the" answer, but there's a lot of vegetable oil already being processed and running through restaurant fryers here and now. The used oil is a bit rancid, but still makes good fuel. Taking the restaurant's waste product and turning it into fuel (easily done locally) requires very little in the way of transport or other costs, just NaOH and methanol.
  • You use the spent vegetable oil after it's spent a few days in the fryer tank; it becomes diesel fuel and glycerine (good for soap). You take the stuff that's spent a day or so in the people, and digest that in a big tank; it yields methane, which can be burned in most kinds of engines.

    The point is, we're growing, transporting and using this stuff anyway. We might as well squeeze a bit more benefit out of it, because it's effectively free.

  • The problem being that modern refined gasoline is too explosive for them (this is a similar problem to using weapons-grade plutonium in a nuclear reactor).
    Sorry, not even close. Gasoline (fuel for Otto-cycle engines) and diesel fuel (fuel for Diesel-cycle engines) have conflicting requirements; diesel fuel MUST ignite in a compressed air charge, but gasoline must NOT ignite when compressed in an air charge. If you put gasoline in a diesel engine, it may not even start. There are also little quirks such as the typical diesel injector pump using the fuel as lubricant and it would die rather quickly if it was fed only gasoline, but those are secondary issues.
    Diesel gas is cheaper per mile in a diesel engine, but also is less pure, and that translates into nastier pollution.
    Diesel fuel is cheaper per mile because the diesel engine has a higher thermal efficiency and better part-throttle efficiency. The "purity" is a red herring, except as it relates to things like sulfur content (some of the sulfur compounds help lubricate the injector pump).
    The $.50 / gallon is somewhat hard to swallow unless they mean cost of seeds to oil.
    They probably mean the cost of NaOH, methanol and processing, because they assume that the vegetable oil is a waste product from a cooking process and is free (or even negative cost, if the user would have to pay to dispose of it).
  • Well, there are starving people in the world now and the rich are still driving their SUV's, so it probably wouldn't look good in terms of humane distribution of resources. I wonder what kind of emissions you would get from vegetable oil--I can't imagine it would combust without much by-product, although hopefully it would be more healthy than the carbon monoxide we get from fossil fuels. Maybe it would just smell like french fries...
  • As long as there is lots of used dirty french fry oil that would otherwise go in the garbage, you could take your vegetable oil car and get a fill up at every mcdonalds. When everyone owns a vegetable oil car, there wont be so much throw-away oil to go around.

    I understand the desire to use what would normally be thrown away, but if these cars become anything more than a rarity, the price of used dirty fry oil will skyrocket.
  • vegetable oil at the grocery store is still more expensive than gasoline. this is an interesting novelty, but not necessarily a solution. how about a fission powered car ; )

Disks travel in packs.