Converting a diesel to biodiesel: What you need to know

Biofuel courtesy of KU 150x150 Converting a diesel to biodiesel: What you need to knowAs we enter the tenth week of the Gulf Oil Spill, you have decided that you can’t take the destruction of our planet, and you’re going to eradicate your carbon foot print.

You’ve refurbished your house with energy efficient products, from light bulbs to solar panels, and you have decided to separate from the teat that is big oil. But in order to do that completely, you will need to operate a vehicle that is free of the vice that is gasoline.

For those with a diesel engine, this can be done with a few easy steps. Regardless, the vice grip that “big oil” maintains around the United States is reflective of our laws, as the Environmental Protection Agency has criminalized using vegetable oil for fueling a vehicle. EPA believes that it is a violation of the Clean Air Act and can result in a $2,700 fine.

Nonetheless, biodiesel is legal and is commercially available and sold under the surnames B5, B20, B35, B50, and B100, which represent the amount of biodiesel compared to diesel. As both fuels are able to mix well, and as we will cover later, often times one will need to keep a small amount of diesel fuel in their tank for operational purposes.

But for those of us who are intent on going “off grid,” there are a few options for converting to biodiesel, but all lead to the same end. First, you need to make sure that your vehicle can run on biodiesel, either by contacting the manufacturer or in some instances you can find the information in the owner’s manual.

Next, once you check your car’s compatibility with biodiesel, you need to decide which type of fuel best suites your vehicle. There are essentially three choices, biofuel, straight vegetable oil (SVO) and waste vegetable oil (WVO). All have their pros and con, and it is up to you as the operator of your vehicle to decide.

Biofuel is a high-quality fuel that meets industry standards (ASTM D6751) and has been through transesterification, which prevents the biofuel from curdling. SVO is oil that that you get from the bottle (which is equal to or more expensive than gasoline) but has not been through transesterification and will freeze under 25 degrees Celsius. WVO is biofuel, or used vegetable oil that is commonly obtained from restaurants. It must be filtered before being put into the fueling system because it has food particles in it. Most biofuelers prefer the oil from Chinese or Japanese restaurants because of their cooking methods.

If you are using transesterified biofuel, then there are some oil filters that you will need, ranging from $5 to $50 dollars, and you are ready to go. Make note that transesterified biofuel is more expensive than other forms of biodiesel. But one can buy a home biofuel kit; four gallon kits are available for around $400, with expensive 150 gallon systems costing $8,500. These home kits allow you to make high-quality (transesterified) biofuel at home in a seven- to 24-hour time frame.

For those who will be using SVO or WVO, you will need to buy parts and labor totaling around $2,000. About $1,000 if you have the mechanical know-how to install the separate fueling tank you need to keep the biofuel heated so that it will not coagulate in colder temperatures. The systems included an on/off switch for using both diesel or biodiesel, and separate gas gauge for the vegetable oil and other filters.

If you are frugal and trying to spend the least amount of money possible and are opting to use recycled biofuel (WVO), then remember you will need to filter the oil prior to putting into your vehicle’s fueling system, and you will need to keep it heated.

Now, operating the car requires a few adjustments as you will not want the biofuel to get stuck in the fuel line or injectors. If you’re using SVO or WVO, then you need to start your car on regular diesel—as the vegetable oil heats, you will then switch to biodiesel with a switch placed inside the car. Prior to turning your car off, you will want to switch back to regular diesel to rid the fuel line and injectors of biofuel.

Now you’re out of the shadow of big oil and into the light of sulfur-free emissions, better gas mileage, and economic independence. Biofuel is readily available and in most cases, free!

—Javier Johnson

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