Biodiesel Announcement

ADM and Volkswagen Celebrate National Ag Day With Landmark Biodiesel Announcement

(Washington, D.C., March 17, 2005) Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM) and Volkswagen AG announced today a landmark decision by Volkswagen to extend warranty protection for the use of biodiesel blend fuel in all of its US market diesel powered automobiles. This announcement represents the first major initiative to emerge from the Joint Research Agreement on Biodiesel established by the two companies last year.

Full article

Still Shopping

I think I’ll be car shopping for a while. This is a pretty big investment and I’m not worried about taking it slow. I’m checking ebay for listings containing the word “diesel” price $0-$5,000 within 200 miles of my zip code and ending in 24 hours. Here’s the link.

Car Shopping on Ebay

I’m skimming ebay today still looking for the perfect car. I’m going to be driving this thing a lot, so the car has to meet not only the mechanical requirements, but also my own personal tastes.

I’m looking for something:

  • That has a diesel engine (obviously)
  • Runs reliably without significant modification
  • Won’t be embarrassing to drive to work.
  • Fits my budget of $2,000 (preferred) to $4,000

This is turning out to be a pretty tall order. I’m mostly just window shopping today, but here are some of the considerations from ebay:

1) 1982 Mercedes-Benz : 300-Series 300SD diesel

Pros: The price is right, currently at $2181.00 with 1 hour to go.
Cons: Needs some engine work, some rust, located in California.
Verdict: Pass

1978  Mercedes-Benz : 300-Series  300SD Diesel

2) 1982 Mercedes-Benz : 300-Series

Pros: A beautiful car! I love the shape of the 80’s model Mercedes Benz. The owner record on this one is excellent as well.
Cons: The care is in Iowa. Why am I doing this to myself?
Verdict: Bookmarked while I look for something closer to home.


1982  Mercedes-Benz : 300-Series

Here’s an excerpt form the Q&A regarding bio-diesel :

Q: Hello… Looks like a fine car. First, all the work for bio-diesel has been done, correct? Second, could you be just a tad more specific about the car’s location than ‘Midwest US’ so I can figure in whatever shipping or driving hassles there are? Thanks a lot… Warren

A: Hi,, The reason MB’s of this era are so highly sought after for using alternative fuels like SVO (straight vegetable (virgin oil) or WVO (waste vegetable oil) as they use glow plugs and a prechamber. These cars only need their fuel lines replaced, and frequent inexpensive transparent fuel filters run until the fuel system is cleaned out, as all bio-diesel, particularly WVO (Greasel) is an aggressive cleaner that will over time remove all contaminants in the fuel tank, lines, and and eventually conventional rubber. Tigon and viton are two high tech materials used for this, and the critical lines on this vehicle have all been changed. For optimal burning and easy winter starting it is a good idea to blend bio diesel with varying amounts of petro-diesel. I generally run 50-70% during the nice weather and as little as 20% in the winter. WVO tends to thicken below about 30 degrees, so it needs to be pre-heated or have a chemical added with the fuel to lower its gel point, and cold pour point. I use a chemical that lowers that point 40 degrees and use mostly SVO in very high concentrations, just to see how far you can push it. I do this on my VW Jetta 170K miles, my 82 Benz wagon, 750K, (same exact engine and trans as the car in the auction), and all my heavy equipment, from tractors to road graders and bull dozers, even a MB bus I use as a mobile home. For three years I’ve floundered around with Bio-D and have never once had a problem. I still have straight soy oil in the MB bus from three years ago, 100% plus the additive and it starts easily. Nearly 20 below is the coldest I’ve tried. Circuitously, this is to say the vehicle has had the minimal work done on it needed for Bio-D and it loves it. Nothing else is a necessity. I am currently experimenting with pre-heating the fuel just before injection using a small heat exchanger using coolant heat. If you want to know more find Journey to Forever on the net. Car is at Iowa City Ia 52240, right off I-80

3) 1993 Ford : F-250 7.3L V8 DI

Pros: This one is nearby and I like the truck utility aspect…
Cons: My current truck is already pretty big and I’m dealing with the carseat problem for my little girl already. This is one heifer of a truck and it could get pricey as well. It’s already at $3,250 with the reserve not met.
Verdict: Pass


1993  Ford : F-250  7.3L V8 DI

Bulk Vegetable Oil

Download a free copy of the USDA report on Bulk Vegetable Oil Commodity Requirements now.

So here’s a problem I’m running into – where do I get the vegetable oil I’ll need to run the car and will it be cheaper than gas?

Finding a bulk vegetable oil distributor is difficult. I’ve called the local McDonald’s/Burger King/Wendy’s restaurants and the managers there have been surprisingly helpful. I was very surprised that they not only gave me the names of their suppliers (and in some cases their phone numbers), but not one of them asked me what I was doing. I was prepared to lay out my whole story so they wouldn’t feel uncomfortable that they were helping their competition, but none seemed to care!

Armed with the contact information from the fast food joints, I called around but none of the suppliers has called me back. Granted, I was doing my shopping on Memorial Day which might not have been the smartest move…

In the meantime, I’ve been looking at the local grocery stores as a last resort. I also joined both Costco and Sam’s Club (for unrelated reasons) so I looked into those as well. If you’re going cross country in your greasecar and aren’t planning on filling your trunk with a supply of oil, here’s what you can expect to pay in my area:

Albertsons Soybean Oil

Albertsons has a “Club pack” of soybean oil – 128 fl oz (1 gallon) for 6.29. That’s $6.29/gallon.

Sams Club 1.25 Gallon Vegetable Oil

Sam’s Club has a 1.25 gallon jug of Wessson vegetable oil for $5.09. That works out to $4.07/gallon.

35 pound jug of clear frying oil

Finally, the listing that has me most intrigued is also at Sam’s Club – a 35 pound jug of clear frying oil for $13.97. Based on some quick internet research, I’ve found that rapeseed oil weighs about 7.6 pounds per gallon. Assuming the same for the fryer oil, the jug contains about 4.6 gallons of oil. That works out to just over $3/gallon. Edit: Here’s some post-publication research on how much vegetabel oil weighs.

The $3/gallon figure doesn’t quite measure up to today’s gas prices, but keep the following in mind:

  • Gas will be going over $3/gallon in the next year. Drivers in Amsterdam and other parts of Europe already pay well over $6/gallon.
  • This pricing is based off of local store shelf prices, not bulk retailers. Buying in bulk has the potential to bring the price down dramatically (more on that to come).
  • Vegetable oil is a renewable resource as opposed to petroleum of which there is a finite amount. While we can expect petroleum prices to rise as the sources deplete, it’s possible that prices for vegetable oil will decrease as it becomes a more mainstream fuel alternative – increased production efficiency, distribution refinement, etc.
  • Finally, wouldn’t you rather pay American farmers for vegetable oil than Arab sheiks for petroleum? Dependence on foreign oil is slowing diplomatic gains for America across the board. I won’t bore you with the politics, but take a moment to think on the big scale what would happen if the price of a barrel of crude wasn’t all we heard about on the news.

My apologies for the rant. If you hear of a good source of veggie oil, please let me know.

Option #2 Mechanical Modification

Mechanical modification – This is fast becoming my method of choice for an alternative fuel automobile.  Like I said before, I think that in order for the trend to catch on and in order for people to make it a viable part of their lives, it’s important that the day-to-day interaction be as simple as possible.  For this to work, we have to make the refueling and maintenance of a vegetable-fuel car or truck as simple as going to the nearest service station as possible.  The reality is that until there’s a vegetable oil vending station on every corner, alternative fuel owners are going to have to operate out of their homebase where they can have ready access to their supply.  I guess in a pinch though, one could always head out to the local Walmart and pick up a dozen bottles of Wesson Oil…

Since we can’t make a veggie-oil distribution system spring up over night, the next best thing would be to simplify the steps they’ll need to take to fuel up.  The biodiesel option mentioned earlier comes with the headache of mixing one’s own fuel.  The mechanical option takes the chemistry out of the picture with a reasonably simple, one time modification to the car.

The concept is again pretty simple: vegetable oil does not have the low viscosity of petro-diesel which makes it harder for the engine to atomize and more difficult to force through the car’s fuel lines.  Not only that, but if left to sit for long periods outside of the tank (in the lines, unburned in the engine, etc.) it will crystalize and corrode the system.

In order to address these issues mechanically, we’ll have to pre-heat the pure vegetable oil before delivering it to the engine (heated vegetable oil has a lower viscosity than room temperature or cold vegetable oil) as well as come up with a way to purge the system of unburned oil before the engine is shutdown.

The sytems sold by greasecar.com consist of the following (taken from their website):

Fuel Valves (2)
Wire Harness & Connectors
Fuse and Harness
Lighted in Dash Fuel Gauge
Lighted 3-Position Switch
Heater Hose
Window Decal
Instruction Manual
5 Micron Bag Filter
Hardware
Hose Brackets
Heated Fuel Line
Fuel Hose
Hose Clamps
T-fittings
Large Hose Clamps
Heated vegetable oil tank
Heated 10 micron fuel filter

The bulk of the hardware includes an auxillary fuel tank with an internal heater and fuel valves to turn on and shut off the flow of the veggie-petrol.  The first addresses the issue of heating the oil while the second allows the unused portions to be isolated from any parts that would deteriorate with time.

The trick to purging the fuel lines is the auxillary tank for the vegetable oil.  By leaving the standard petro-diesel fuel delivery system in place, the driver can start and run the car with regular diesel fuel while it reaches operating temperature and can switch it over for the last few minutes of driving with to purge the line.  Although this makes the operation less than 100% reliant on the alternative fuel method, it’s close enough for me.  If you’re super particular, mix up a batch of biodiesel just for this purpose.

1998 Ford F-150 STX

For those readers that have asked, here’s what I’ve been driving for the last four years or so.  It’s a 1998 Ford F-150 STX with a 4.6 liter V6.  It’s been a great truck – very reliable, comfortable and useful.  I’m going to try to hang onto it for the duration of the experiment so 1) I’ll have a viable vehicle while I’m doing repairs or in case something goes wrong and 2) I’m steering away from the older enormous diesel trucks as a matter of preference and towards passenger cars, but owning a truck still has a very high utility value for me.

1998 Ford F-150 STX with a 4.6 liter V6

 

This truck gets around 16 miles per gallon in the city and 21 mpg on the highway.  With regular driving (mostly back and forth to work) I’m filling up about every two weeks to the tune of $50-$60 a tank.  At an average of $27/week, I’m projected to spend $1404 in gas over the next year – assuming prices stay where they’re at.  My estimate actually sounds a little low, so here is the Ford F150 4.2 V6 Fuel Economy Factsheet from http://www.fueleconomy.gov.

 

Option #1 Biodiesel

Biodiesel – This option really interested me in the beginning.  The starting concept is that a diesel engine will run on vegetable oil with no modification.  The reality is that vegetable oil has a much higher viscosity (10-13 times thicker than conventional diesel).  The effect on your car is the same as the effect of grease on your heart an arteries – it clogs the lines and makes the engine work harder to process it.  This especially detrimental during startup when a car’s engine receives the majority of wear and tear.

Biodiesel addresses the problem by taking vegetable oil, adding a recipe of lye and methanol to produce a more stable, compatible product for the diesel engine.  Once made, just pour the concoction in your tank and go.  The benefits are a homebrew fuel source and reportedly a cleaner burning and more efficient engine (as stated by the good folks at Journey to Forever).

I thought about this for a while and had it pegged as my initial first choice.  The truth is I’m lazy and despite what you may think I don’t want to crawl around under a car doing a fuel modification when I could be playing with my daughter or eating a sandwich.

Ultimately though, my wife convinced me that this wasn’t the way to go.  Her argument was that although the vegetable fuel was a cool idea and had a lot of merit, people weren’t going to do it unless it were easy – that’s pretty much a universal standard (see the above for just how lazy I can be).  She thinks I’m much more likely to convince people to put a weekend’s worth of free time into an engine modification than to making a week-in week-out lifelong lifestyle change.  With that in mind I started thinking about the effort I was going to have to put in – every month – buying dangerous chemicals, mixing them in my garage, carefully storing everything, hoping I measured everything correctly, hoping things hadn’t gone bad, and I had to agree with her.

That said, I don’t think biodiesel is 100% off the table.  Once I get the car up and running and I’ve collected the data I want, I’d like to revisit this option for the sake of experimentation and report on that as well.  In the meantime, it’s on to option #2 – mechanical modification of the fuel delivery system.

Raising the Bar

I’d like to take a minute to zero in on the point of this experiment.  I’ve had some critiscm so far from people saying things like “Yeah it’s possible, but isn’t it a lot of work?” or “If everyone did it, wouldn’t it just raise the cost of oil?”

Both of those may be true.  I don’t care.  This is about something different.  It’s time for everyone to stop bemoaning the rising cost of gas and our dependence on foreign oil and work towards a solution.  To be clear: it’s not my original idea, but I’m going to write about and I’m going to make it happen for me.  That’s one.  If you’re reading this, maybe you’ll be number two.  I invite you to blog about it.

Hucksters

Research for the project has unturned a lot of hucksters.  It feels like for every legitimate company I find selling a conversion kit or publishing information on the process, there are 10+ others with a snake oil solution.  As is the case with most emerging technology, this is definitely a buyer beware endeavor.

Right now I’m feeling good about http://www.greasecar.com/.  Their website is informative and it’s in English (apparently much of this technology originates from Europe and I loathe ordering parts from overseas).

http://www.greasyrider.com is an interesting documentary about so called greasecars featuring Morgan Freeman.

Also of interest is Willie Nelson’s site http://www.wnbiodiesel.com/.  This site was recommended to me on several different occassion when the conversation turned to the veggieoil car.

Lastly, http://journeytoforever.org/ has LOADS of good information – tips, tricks, methods, etc.  It’s a little much to take in all at once, but definitely a good reference.

Guys at the Auto Parts Store

I stopped at O’Reilly auto parts today for advice on the diesel conversion.  There were several guys who had heard the concept or seen it on TV, but no one had good advice on how to make it happen.  I did get a recommendation for a specialty diesel shop in the area – Diesel injector service I think it was called.  I’ll see if they have any leads tomorrow.  I have some vacation coming up this month, and I’d like to use some of that time to locate a vehicle.

Until then my short term goals are pretty straight forward:

Figure out the mechanical modifications needed to make the car run on straight vegetable oil

Determine the most practical candidate auto for the experiment (a combination of economics and mechanics)

Locate a vehicle.  I’m officially looking for sponsors for the project, so feel free to contact me if you have a diesel you’re willing to donate!