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"Biofuels" by Josh Trought, posted January 2007

Diesel to Veggie Oil Conversion Workshop July 22 at KTM Auto

There is growing concern that we are dependent on imported petroleum. Foreign oil is the basis of our transportation system and the globalized food supply. The US is a net importer of petroleum and food and our economy is based on low cost oil. As this finite resource becomes increasingly scarce, we must search for other ways to provide for our needs. Diesel engines that run on vegetable based fuels are a step in the right direction.

The first diesel engine was introduced in 1900 at the World's Exhibition in Paris. That engine ran on 100% peanut oil and was designed to run on a variety of biofuels. This engine system enabled farmers to produce their own fuel locally. During the oil crisis in the 1970's, half of the cars sold by Volkswagen and 70% of the cars sold by Mercedes Benz in this country were diesel engines. Diesel engines are still the choice for trucks, heavy machinery, and marine engines because of their efficiency and durability. The marketing of the petro-industry and the American desire for immediacy and ease have limited contemporary usage of the diesel.

Vegetable based fuels in diesel engines can be used in two fashions. Either modify the vegetable oil by making biodiesel or modify the car's fuel system and use pure vegetable oil. Any kind of vegetable oil can be used including corn, soybean, peanut, hemp, sunflower, rapeseed, and recycled vegetable oil from restaurant fryers.

Biodiesel can be poured straight into a diesel engine. Biodiesel is created by a chemical process using vegetable oil, alcohol, and a catalyst. The process removes the glycerin, which can then be used to make soap. Once the glycerin is removed, the fuel becomes smoother, runnier and less viscous than the thick veggie oil. Biodiesel does not require changes to the fuel system but will actually clean your fuel lines and clog old filters rapidly.

To use straight vegetable oil it is recommended to modify the vehicle's fuel system. The main components of the veggie oil system are a fuel selector solenoid, a second fuel tank, and a heating system for tank, filter and fuel lines. Straight vegetable oil burns best at 160 degrees Fahrenheit, so it prefers preheating. When the temperature dips below freezing, veggie oil gets too thick to flow in the fuel system without supplemental heat. The veggie oil is heated using engine coolant or electric power from the alternator. Typically the engine is started on diesel and run until the veggie oil reaches adequate temperature. Then before shutting down the engine is flushed with diesel for easy start-up.

Of course conservation is the best way to save energy and reduce pollution but there are many reasons to use biofuels instead of fossil fuels. Biofuels burn cleaner than fossil fuels in terms of greenhouse gases and pollutants. Waste veggie oil actually smells like the food that was cooked. Using biofuels will put farmers to work and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

Biofuels are part of the answer to ease our dependence on finite foreign petro. To learn about how to modify your fuel system for vegetable oil, attend a hands-on conversion workshop on Saturday, July 22 from 10 to 5 at KTM Auto, on Depot St in Plymouth. A conversion will be performed that day. The cost will be $40 with a 25% discount for D Acres members and 25% for Grafton County residents. Local members and students pay $20. Bring your own lunch. Please call D Acres at 786.2366 or email info@dacres.org to register. We are also interested in forming a cooperative group to produce biodiesel from the waste veggie oil available in the region. To get involved in the Plymouth area biodiesel cooperative, contact D Acres.

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