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Switch to Veggie Oil?

By Ted Nelson
November 5, 2008
File under: Alternative Fuels

veggie oil

When it comes to getting around, public transportation, walking, biking, and blading are the greenest options. Yet, most of our communities—and lives—are built around the car. Now, there are a number of technologies to “green your driving”: hybrids, fuel-efficient cars, plug-ins, tailpipe attachments, and ethanol. But, have you thought about plain old vegetable oil? Did you know that Rudolf Diesel actually designed the first diesel engine to run on Straight Vegetable Oil (SVO)?

Where can you get this SVO? New vegetable oil is a no-hassle option that we’re all familiar with, and can be found at any grocery store, for between $3 and $6 per gallon. Recycling Waste Vegetable Oil (WVO) from a restaurant, on the other hand, can get you fuel at almost no cost. The environmental impact of WVO is low even compared to biofuels because no new plants need to be harvested and no dangerous chemicals are used to convert the oil into fuel. Many restaurants are willing to simply give you their used oil—which must be filtered—rather than paying to dispose of it.

Don’t run to your local fast food joint or grocery store just yet, though, or you’ll get a rude surprise when your engine dies on you. You’ll have to get your diesel car or truck converted to run on SVO. If you’re a DIYer or gearhead, you can do the conversion yourself.

It will cost around $500 to install a DIY conversion kit or between $800 and $2,000 for professional installation. The price varies depending on make, model, and where you get the conversion done. Diesel trucks/pick-ups, Mercedes, and Volkswagens—often older models—are considered the best candidates for a conversion.

A used 1977-1985 diesel Mercedes, a $900 conversion, and gas for next to nothing… at least $20,000 cheaper than a new Prius, plus you’re recycling both the car and WVO.

While making the switch from petrol to veggie oil can be a bit of a hassle and may take longer to catch on in the mainstream, there is already a niche market of WVO devotees who swear any potential hassle is well worth it. This could certainly be one small step towards both energy independence and improving climate change. Anyone hungry for some french fries?

Comments (3) Email Link
  1. Tracy
    November 6, 2008 6pm UTC

    That is so cool. Why has this not received more publicity??

  2. Eddie
    November 12, 2008 2pm UTC

    yeah the problem is that this could never make it to the mainstream. even if we recycled all of the vegetable oil used by every restaurant in the country, there’s no way we would be able to meet the country’s oil requirements, meaning we’d have to use virgin vegetable oil, reopening the same food vs. fuel debate that has plagued ethanol.

  3. Ted Nelson
    November 14, 2008 1pm UTC

    Tracy, There’s definitely a publicity problem stemming from a lack of information/communication from the industry. Eddie’s absolutely correct that WVO is not likely to catch on as a mainstream option, but it’s a promising niche market.

    At the moment running a car on WVO requires a lot of work (finding/collecting WVO) and entails a lot of risk (getting your car converted at a sort of ‘mom and pop’ mechanic and relying on the few mechanics in your area capable of fixing your car). A network has to build itself up. I’ve come across many entrepreneurs working to establish credible brands in WVO conversions and fuel distribution. If they succeed I think WVO can develop into a lucrative niche market. The incentives are in place: environmental and economic incentives will drive consumer demand, while making a profit or giving away WVO they once paid to dispose of will drive supply from restauranteurs.

    This could really me an example of recycling at its finest!

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