Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Get off Gas, Go Grease

I have always been fascinated with economy and efficiency. Back in 1970, when gasoline wars drove the price to seventeen cents a gallon, my peers could not understand why I would trade my '68 302 cubic inch 4-barrel Mustang for a French-made, frog-looking Renault 10. The short answer was that the R-10 averaged 35 mpg. You have to remember, the highly touted VW Beetle only averaged 23 mpg at that time.

I have spent most of my adult life in pursuit of an automobile that balanced safety, performance, economy, reliability, and ease of personal maintenance. After toying with the best that Detroit and Japan could offer I was quite happy with my '82 Honda Prelude that was fast approaching 400,000 miles on the odometer. Once gas started moving past $1.50 per gallon, I saw the handwriting on the tire wall and started researching a way out of the petroleum hamster cage. For a while I was convinced that the best route was to produce my own biodiesel fuel. Research revealed that with a free source of waste vegetable oil (WVO) that was readily available from local restaurants who were paying people to take the stuff away, I could process fuel in my garage for about a dollar a gallon. Granted, it would take building a small lab and handling large quantities of ethanol and lye, not to mention dealing with the curious Federal agents who want to know why someone is purchasing barrels of same. And do I really want that highly corrosive, combustible stuff stored in my garage?

More research revealed that I could cut out the two most laborious, dangerous, and expensive steps in the biodiesel process by simply adding a second fuel tank and running the WVO as is. So now I own a German car with a French woman's name and only need to tank up on diesel 3 or 4 times a year. (The diesel is used to warm up the WVO tank using engine heat so that it is thin enough to pump through the injectors). Due to the superior lubricating properties of the WVO, the engine runs quieter and should actually last longer. As for performance, I can't tell any difference. For the diesel fuel I actually pay for, I get between 200-400 mpg (fluctuations due to the seasonal effect on the warming time of the WVO). Good for the car, good for my budget, good for the environment. Everybody wins but the tax man! (And the dregs from the filtering process works better than Roundup as a weed killer). I have since converted my 2002 Dodge Pickup to run on the stuff as well.

Special thanks must go to my suppliers - Jeff, Bobby, and Kathleen from Kathy's Catfish and Seafood Barbeque, the fine folks at Simply Delicious, Scott Curry from Curry's, and the dudes from The Hard Dock Cafe at the riverfront. A nice fellow from Yemen who runs the corner gas station/deli has started giving me his used oil recently. So I guess I'm still dependent on Arab oil after all!

No comments: