Veggie Power

The use of vegetable oils for engine fuels may seem insignificant today. But such oils may become in the course of time as important as petroleum products of the present time. -- Dr Rudolf Diesel, 1912

The idea of the journey is to promote vegetable oil as a motoring option as it is more environmentally friendly than diesel because it is virtually carbon neutral. -- Daniel Blackburn, August 2003

For all those who worry about pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every time they get in a car, there is a relatively easy solution to your dilemma. Chances are we will all get very old, and the planet a whole lot warmer, if we wait for the motor industry to gets its act together and produce a hydrogen or an electric car that really works. However running a diesel car on vegetable oil is an easily achievable reality for those wanting carbon neutral motoring today. -- Daniel Blackburn

When we think of diesel we think of the dirty smelly diesel that lorries, vans, buses and taxis use. Diesel engines run on poor quality fuels as that is what the diesel engine was designed for.

Exhibiting at the Paris Exhibition at the beginning of the 1900s, Dr Rudolph Diesel (1858–1913) had on show his new invention, the diesel engine. It sat there happily chugging away on peanut oil!

Rudolph Diesel had designed the Diesel engine to run a variety of fuels and during his Paris speech said, 'the diesel engine can be fed with vegetable oils and will help considerably in the development of the agriculture of the countries which use it.'

A few years later Rudolph Diesel’s body was found floating face down in the English Channel. After holding secret talks with the UK navy about fitting diesel engines into their submarine fleet Rudolph Diesel was killed by the French to stop his diesel technology being fitted into submarines over the world.

To add insult to injury, after Dr Diesel’s death, the petroleum industry capitalised on the diesel engine by naming one of their crappy by-products of petroleum distillation ‘diesel fuel’. That’s how dirty diesel fuel has come to be the fuel for diesel engines.

To prove that veggie oil really does work, without affecting the performance of his car, west Wales environmental campaigner Daniel Blackburn is driving from Land's End to John O'Groats. He is driving a converted Citroen ZX 1.9 diesel turbo into which he is pouring vegetable oil bought from supermarkets en route.

Around 5,000 cars in Germany are run on cooking oil and farmers in Ireland are also converting their machinery. Using veggie oil in Wales is so popular that the police are mounting clampdowns. The problem is that drivers are avoiding Excise Duty. It is not, as some have led to believe, illegal to use veggie oil, but it is illegal to not pay Excise Duty on the veggie oil used.

Daniel Blackburn keeps a detailed tally of the vegetable oil consumed. He notifies Custom and Excise once a month and they bill him for the Excise Duty.

Customs and Excise say the duty on vegetable oil as a fuel is 25.82p per litre, ie 20p less than ultra-low sulphur diesel. The same rate levied on bio-diesel.

But even with Excise Duty, it is still cheaper to run on veggie oil. Daniel Blackburn estimates it costs him, duty paid, about 73p a litre, which is cheaper than diesel and perfectly legal.

Lab Rats in Australia found that they get better mileage on veggie oil than they do on evil smelling petro-chemical diesel. They don't even bother to go to the supermarket to buy litre bottles of cooking oil, instead they take the old cooking oil from fish and chip shops, an otherwise waste product which in the UK would go to landfill.

The van itself needs some modification which we did ourselves. Firstly you need a diesel engine. What we've done is basically installed a whole new fuel system so the car in essence runs like a dual fuel vehicle. To get the van running on veggie oil we built a heated fuel tank that heats the oil by circulating hot water from the radiator through a copper coil in the tank. This thins it out enabling it to be used as a fuel. We then installed a fuel pump and an extra fuel line with a re-washable fine filter to clean the oil before it hits the motor. At the end of the oil full line is a tap. The basic principal is to start the van on diesel for ten minutes, this then heats the oil in the tank. When the oil is hot enough we turn the fuel pump on the diesel tap off the veggie oil tap on and brmmmmmmmmm. It's fish and chips all the way. Before we turn the motor off we run it on diesel for 5 minutes to clean out the motor. It's as simple as that.

It is very efficient, we actually get more miles per gallon on veggie oil than we do on diesel. Also all the oil we get is old oil so it's all recycled and free. We've done just over 30,000 km's around Australia for basically nothing. Environmentally it puts out much less pollution than a normal diesel. We haven't been able to afford proper emissions tests but from the research we managed to gather a rough estimate of the benefits. It has no net CO2 emissions, no sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide is reduced by 10 - 50 %, soot emissions are 40 - 60 % less, hydrocarbons go down 10 - 50 % and importantly a whole range of carcinogenic aromatic hydrocarbons are reduced from 60 - 100%. Of course by growing veggie oil plants this eats CO2's to produce oxygen. So there are many pluses. Also you no longer have to rely on the corrupt world of petrochemical companies no more blood for oil. It can be done to all almost all diesel vehicles from cars to trucks to generators.

Veggie oil tends to be too thick (too viscous), and needs to be warmed up. If recycled veggie oil is being used, it will also need to be filtered.

There are two methods of using veggie oil, one or two tanks. In the one tank method, the veggie oil has to be pre-heated, with the two tank method the engine is started on petro-chemical diesel, then when the veggie oil has warmed up, switch over to veggie oil (some run their engine on diesel fuel afterwards to flush through the engine).

Lab Rats give an excellent demo of what they are doing in the video clip that is on the CD that comes free with the latest SchNEWS Annual (reviewed BVEJ newsletter #0039 August 2003). Daniel Blackburn gives details on his website, plus useful links from where to obtain DIY conversion kits.

Use of straight veggie oil, with or without a conversion kit, should not be confused with converting the veggie oil to bio-fuel, which requires some chemical processing. The SchNEWS site, in the DIY section, has details on this.

According to Lab Rats, the emission output is much cleaner than using petro-chemical diesel.

Using veggie power can be seen as completing the loops in a Gaian network, fossil carbon is not plundered from the ground, instead carbon is endlessly cycled through plants and our veggie powered vehicles. Ideally the veggie oil would be sourced locally, but do we wish to see the countryside covered with genetically modified oil-seed rape? Even non-GM oil-seed rape would be bad enough. In practice the veggie oil would be sourced from the Third World.

Veggie power should not be seen as a panacea. If everyone converted to veggie oil, the Third World instead of growing food to feed our stomachs, would instead be growing to fuel our cars. In either case, land is being taken from the mouths of the poor to feed the habits of the rich.

In the long term we have to recognise that mobility for everyone is not a freedom, let alone a God-given right.


further reading

Engineer serves up fish'n'chip fuel, BBC news on-line, 9 July, 2002

Police target 'cooking oil cars', BBC news on-line, 8 October, 2002

Police impound cars run on cooking oil, BBC news on-line, 9 October, 2002

Solar Power, Veggie Oil and a Fat Bass, IMC Sydney, 15 March 2003

Drive promotes cooking oil fuel, BBC news on-line, 29 July 2003

Keith Parkins, Pipeline Politics, Indymedia UK, 21 August 2003

Gaia index ~ Soft Energy Paths ~ Energy Tax
(c) Keith Parkins 2003 -- August 2003 rev 0