Western Students Running Cars on Vegetable Oil
Sept. 16, 2008 -- Western State College students Sam Duchaine and Zeb Swick drove from Maine to Iowa this summer on free oil.
Duchaine's 1990 Volkswagen Jetta is converted to run on straight vegetable oil (SVO). Others in Gunnison are doing the same.
Swick also runs his vehicle on SVO. He has made several modifications to his truck; a 1982 Volkswagen. Among those modifications are: an extra tank for the SVO, a small heater and insulated lines for the oil to run through. In the garage that he and Duchaine share, are assorted five gallon buckets of used vegetable oil that they've collected from local restaurants. A filtering station is set up, reminiscent of a cook cleaning a fryer at a hamburger joint.
Though the oil is free Swick reports that mileage must be recorded to pay a highway tax at the end of the year.
Duchaine or Swick aren't willing to share to the public where they get the oil. Competition for the oil has increased as the public is finding out that they can run their diesel vehicles on SVO. This is especially true after the soaring of diesel prices this summer.
Cheap oil is not the only motivation for the two. There are several other motivating factors. "There is this feeling that you can't do anything about your dependence on oil," Swick said. "By doing this we can start ridding ourselves of that."
"There is also a mindful consumptive piece," Duchaine added. "By being aware of where oil comes from, it makes me want to not be a part of it."
She also remarked by transporting the oil she is becoming more aware of how much oil she consumes in her vehicle.
Bruce VanBuskirk, owner of the local business Authentic Energy, uses 40 gallons of SVO a week in his 1995 Ford diesel truck. He finds his Ford to be perfect for running the fuel, and has made no major modifications. His truck was already installed with two gas tanks and a fuel filter system that is cooperative with SVO.
He finds that running his vehicle on SVO makes driving more interesting. He explains that he has to start and finish his driving day with regular diesel fuel and runs SVO in between. Experimenting with the correct temperatures to run SVO is also an issue. "This year I started running vegetable oil in March," VanBuskirk said. "The hotter it is the better the oil runs."
He explained that during trips to Denver when the temperatures were in the 90s the SVO ran very smooth, "like melted butter."
VanBuskirk is also reluctant to reveal where his source of oil comes from. "It's getting more and more competitive," he shared.
He also feels that the potential for SVO in vehicles is extremely limited in the Gunnison Valley, and that SVO is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to alternative fuels.
He said that biodiesel is an option, but for him to personally produce it there are too many additives and byproducts. Biodiesel is primarily vegetable oil but also uses methanol and lye, which can be complicated to dispose of and dangerous to handle. Virtually any diesel vehicle can run on biodiesel, though some require minor modifications. The diesel engine, invented by Rudolf Diesel was originally invented to run on peanut oil.
VanBuskirk is especially interested in the prospect of algae as a fuel. "Algae produce daily crops and for a lack of a better word it is sustainable," he said.
He likes the idea of a greenhouse covered algae pond in Gunnison as an experiment.
Nationally recycling vegetable oil has become a multi-million dollar business, and in some cities every drop of used oil is accounted for. While VanBuskirk feels that there are limited possibilities for SVO use, he does feel that those who are using SVO could benefit through some informal group to discuss techniques and ideas. "I could see a resource sharing group forming to learn from each other's mistakes and successes," he said.
Swick is making efforts to institutionalize the use of SVO in vehicles at WSC. Through an independent study in the Environmental Studies (ENVS) department he is analyzing SVO and biodiesel. His hopes are that the ENVS department could have a vehicle that strictly runs on SVO; that they could use for field trips.
Jon Coady, the director of WSC's campus dining services, reports that Keating Dining Hall goes through over 100 gallons of vegetable oil a month. "I would love to see a reliable recycling of our oil on campus," he said.
Story by: Luke Mehall, assistant director of public relations