Over the years there have been many stories of people running cars and commercial vehicles on recycled vegetable oils – oils that would be disposed of after several cooking cycles in restaurants, take-away outlets or other commercial kitchens. At first, like many people, I was quite bemused by this as I couldn’t see how it would work and then I saw several motoring programs from the US and UK where they showed a car (typically a diesel Mercedes) running quite happily on recycled oil – one even did a long distance test to see what would happen and found it to be successful with no immediate side effects.
So what are the benefits of using recycled vegetable oil in a car originally designed to run on carbon based diesel? Interestingly, the first engines developed by Rudolph Diesel over 100 years ago were designed to run on vegetable or nut oils. As is often the case, it was Government interference that helped the market change to oil based diesel through taxes and other ways to extract money from a market.
From a recycling perspective, the oil should be free or very cheap, as the outlet will need to find a way of getting rid of the oil as they need fresh oil to keep their food tasting nice. The burned oil doesn’t release any sulphur dioxide (as carbon diesel does) and significantly reduces pollution by reducing the amount of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide released after combustion. In addition you don’t get any thick black smelly smoke as the vehicle accelerates. From an environmental perspective, the waste oil is used up and thus reduces the need to buy carbon diesel and less pollutants are poured into our city skies.
What is needed?
This all sounds great, but what do you need to go about converting your vehicle to run on vegetable oil? Well, you can buy kits that come complete with the following items:
– Heated tanks and delivery lines. Remember that vegetable oil is much thicker than diesel at normal temperatures, so needs to be heated to make it thin enough for the injectors to work.
– A method of filtering the oil prior to reaching the vehicle.
– A high flow pump and filter system to capture any particles that have not been filtered prior to being pumped into the vehicle.
– A secondary filter to ensure that the oil is as clean as possible.
Most systems seem to be for specific vehicles which are Ford, Jeep, Chevy, Dodge and VW based. Other manufacturers make systems for Mercedes so it would be sensible to see if a kit has been developed before attempting a conversion if you have any other type of diesel powered vehicle.
Because the vegetable oil needs to heat up prior to being used, most systems also use standard diesel as a starting and stopping fuel. This ensures that the vegetable oil is at the right temperature before it is passed through the system and using diesel prior to switching off the engine ensures that the oil does not cool and block the pipes – especially if they’re not the heated type!
Another factor to consider is that you may void any warranties that remain on the vehicle, which is why many conversions are done on older models where the warranty has already expired.
The next question is really what would the fuel economy and power outputs be? My research has found no documented loss of power or a change in the fuel economy from the original carbon diesel fuel. Some owners have been quoted on web sites saying that their car seems to run smoother with better pick-up when accelerating – but that may be because of the new filters and components helping to deliver the fuel more efficiently than before.
What about taxes?
Today State and Federal Governments are collecting tax from carbon based diesel outlets but not for biodiesels or hybrids. You don’t get taxed for using a hybrid with only it’s electric motor but you do pay tax when you fill it with petrol!
How long will it take for Governments around the world to realise that as the world starts to use biodiesels or hybrids in greater numbers, they will try and find a way of taxing the purchase of electricity to charge a hybrid’s batteries or the purchase of old vegetable oils. I have read about people in the US and UK being prosecuted for using a vegetable oil based car because they pay no tax to use the vehicle! The Customs and Excise department of the UK Government have tried to fine people for not paying excise on a product that doesn’t attract a tax duty! Now that is daylight robbery.
As I said earlier, Governments have the power to destroy a market if they see no revenue coming in. Currently in Australia I pay taxes when I buy a car (stamp duty, Goods and Services Tax and luxury car tax if the vehicle is above a certain value). Import duties may be factored into the price as well. I pay tax every year to register it to allow me to use it on the road. I pay tax when I insure it. I pay a service tax when a mechanic or dealer services it. I pay more tax when I fill it up with petrol and I pay a tax to use city roads. It won’t be long before we see a usage tax on hybrids or biodiesels!
I actually think that making fuels from waste products is a good thing and car owners should be free to use whatever fuel they like and having multiple choices can only be good. With an increase in biofuels or ways to use vegetable oils, especially for public transport, it would solve a number of issues that are currently being discussed around the world.
The taxation issue for any fuel is a concern – I’m worried that Governments will screw up a perfectly good idea and make it unsustainable, even though it is a step forward in our reliance on fossil fuels.