Making the Commitment: Powered by Vegetable Oil

The previous posts in this series have focused on solar PV and electric vehicles. For this last post  I wanted to show that there are other ways to participate actively in sustainability and have always been inspired by Doug Allen, a colleague at BT, who runs his car on used vegetable oil.

By Doug Allen, Quality Assurance Manager, BT Operate

I have been running a car on used vegetable oil for about five years.  I had wanted to drive a more environmentally friendly vehicle, but I wasn’t ready to spend $30,000 on a Prius.  I was intrigued when a friend told me that his VW diesel was converted to run with vegetable oil.

Back in 2005, through a fortuitous connection of my wife’s I came across an opportunity to buy a well maintained 1980’s Mercedes diesel for $1000. It had 150,000 miles which is low for a diesel engine of that age.  It was just too good of a deal to turn down.  For only $700 I had it converted to run on used vegetable oil by Lovecraft Biofuels and 60,000 miles later I have never looked back.

It is reliable, responsive to drive, eco-friendly, and best of all, I never pay for fuel.   I do have to collect and process my own oil, but I enjoy that and don’t think of it as a cost at all.

Once a week or so, I visit a couple of restaurants whose kitchens I have inspected and trust, and I do them a favor by taking their used vegetable oil off their hands (in my experience soybean oil performs best). If I didn’t collect their oil, they would have to pay to have it taken away – so it is a win-win.  I leave it to sit in a container at home and let the particles to settle and then put it through a manual filter process.  Then it goes into my car.

You need some space in your garage and can expect to get a bit dirty.  After all, it’s a hands on experience.  But if you are up to it, it is simple.

Solar and an EV would be great one day, but for now, together with extensive recycling and a year round organic vegetable garden in the yard, driving my vegetable oil Mercedes has given me a lot of satisfaction and I would thoroughly recommend it.

Interested in other blog posts in the Making the Commitment series? Check out Solar Makes Math Cents, The Sunny Side of Solar and Running on the Sun.  Stayed tuned for more posts from this series.

  1. Comments 6

  2. Mark Baker 1:44 am on August 12, 2011

    Would love to do that in the UK, but the problem is that even cooking oil used as a fuel is liable to fuel duty (i.e. tax) which brings the price close to diesel (derv) in the UK meaning that it is no longer a viable proposition.

  3. KevinMoss 2:19 am on August 12, 2011

    Mark, thanks for the comment - that certainly seems a pity. I am in London this week and noticed a short article in The Times about biofuel that includes the following words from a speech given by Rudolf Diesel on running his first diesel engine on peanut oil in 1912 "[It] may seem insignificant today but such oils may become as important as petroleum". Lets hope that we get to the right balance eventually !

  4. mark baker 6:47 am on August 12, 2011

    Kevin, found this statement on one of the UK biodiesel sites:- ..................................... Biodiesel for Personal Use Since the change of the law in July 2006 it is now legal to make up to 2,500 litres of biodiesel for personal use, which is enough to run an average family car, without paying any kind of tax. ..................................... So maybe this requires deeper investigation after all!!! Need to look into the cost of the equipment necessary, now!

  5. Debbie Youens 7:19 am on August 15, 2011

    Actually you can mae biodiesel in the uk and your right it is legal. My husband I have been processing waste oil for 18 months and run both cars and the campercan off it. We process 180 lites in one batch. My initial processor cost about £1100 -£1200, however over the past 18 months i've probably spent a further £800. (Upgrades, rewiring the garage and so forth). My campervan can just run off pure used waste oil, but the car's are a little bit more fussy, hence the reason for processing the oil. Although I don't pay for waste oil, I have friends that do!!! Some pay 40pence per litre. I still make sure I keep my oil suppliers happy though, with the odd bottle of whiskey for the owner and a few bob in their christmas card towards their staff party. You'd be amazed at how that goes along way. And although we keep records of how much we process in a 12 month period, there is nobody out their really policing it, unless your processing it on an industrial scale. I would suggest the following forum (which we are members) for really useful advice about processing/purchasing kit/Chemicals/suppliers and generally any other information that you need to know about bio diesel. Hope this helps

  6. KevinMoss 7:26 am on August 15, 2011

    Debbie, thanks for the clarification on the UK position.

  7. MWest 12:55 am on January 2, 2012

    People with the willingness to contribute to the betterment of the planet by utilizing green fuel is just admirable. Although it is becoming popular but not yet totally accepted by many to be utilized, those who are currently using biofuel from grease is great. I believe that collecting waste vegetable/cooking oil is an important aspect of the process and in Texas, there are grease collection Texas companies that pick up then transport grease to recycling plants in order to produce biodiesel which is considered the fuel of the future!

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