(Bio) Diesel Dykes

The Vancouver Biodiesel Coop Cardlock Pump at 360 Industrial Ave, Vancouver
The Vancouver Biodiesel Coop Cardlock Pump at 360 Industrial Ave, Vancouver

This week, the wife and I upgraded from our 50% biodiesel blend to 100%. Our car is now 100% carbon neutral. We bought an old (1983) Mercedes diesel a year ago, specifically to run it on biodiesel.

A lot of people aren’t aware about biodiesel. Here’s the skinny for aspiring biodiesel dykes.

The diesel engine was invented by Rudolph Diesel in 1892. His prototype ran on peanut oil and he envisioned running it on veggie oil or coal dust. The engine was later modified to run on what we now think of as diesel fuel. Diesel fuel is less viscous (thinner) than vegetable oil, so modern strategies to run diesel engines on vegetable fuel involve some way to thin the oil down so modern diesel engines can handle it.

There are two ways to thin vegetable oil for diesel engines. The first is to heat the oil before introducing it to the engine. In hot climates, people often don’t need to do anything to get the diesel oil warm enough to use, if the engine is in good shape. Older Mercedes engines are often used for this purpose. In cooler climes, people who choose this strategy have their diesel engine modified to allow for a second veggie oil tank and a heated fuel line to feed the engine. The conversion costs aproximately $1500. (Here’s some technical information from Agriculture Alberta) Once converted, the car can run on filtered recycled fryer fat from restaurants, which can normally be obtained for free, since restaurants normally have to pay for disposal. This is gradually changing, as biodiesel becomes more popular, with restaurants selling the oil to biodiesel refineries. The less labour-intensive method our family has chosen is to buy biodiesel. Biodiesel can be put into any diesel engine without modifying it, and can be mixed with regular diesel if desired. People commonly run their engines on anywhere to 5-100% biodiesel. If you run out of fuel and there’s no biodiesel available, no problem, you can still use regular diesel any time you need to. Biodiesel costs about the same or slightly less than regular diesel per litre. Biodiesel is normally made from iether virgin vegetable oil or recycled waste vegetable oil. The virgin oil route has justifiably come under criticism as being unsustainable, as has ethanol when it is made from food crops rather than waste. The second criticism is about whether it is possible to grow enough plants to make enough biofuel to completely replace fossil fuels. I say at the very least it’s a good intermediate technology until plug-in electric cars are more widely available.

The process to make biodiesel reduces the thickness of the oil, and produces glycerine as a by-product. Up until recently, we’ve been purchasing a 50% blend (half biodiesel, half regular diesel) from United Petroleum Products, who have a cardlock fueling station in North Vancouver.

The Biodiesel Coop, which sells 100% recycled veggie oil biodiesel, now has a fueling station near Terminal and Main in Vancouver, and we had our first 100% fuel-up earlier this week. The station operates using a keypad where you enter your member number and password, and is available 24 hours. You need to become a member before fueling up, and then the fuel cost is billed to your credit card.

We noticed a few things when we started running 100% biodiesel. Firstly, the motor runs quieter. Biodiesel is a stronger solvent (gunk dissolver) than regular diesel, so it cleans out your engine. Expect to change your fuel filter a few months after you convert to biodiesel, as this gunk will end up there. Secondly, the black smoke created when starting the engine on regular diesel or even 50% blend has disappeared.

Biofuels (when made from recycled or wasted materials) are generally ‘carbon neutral’, which means that even though they produce some CO2 when burned, they ‘stored’ C02 when growing as plants, so it all evens out. By fueling your diesel vehicle with biodiesel, you can therefore save 8 tonnes or more of greenhouse gas emissions per year.  Biofuels also are more likely to be produced near where they are burned, reducing transportation fuel use and carbon production. Use of locally produced biofuels also avoids fueling the ongoing conflict and conquest in the Middle East and elsewhere, reducing the possibility of wars for control over oil. Biofuels are also more likely to be produced by small, local companies than petroleum multinationals, creating better quality, local jobs.

All in all, Jeanette and I are very happy to now be 100% Biodiesel Dykes.

Here are some links to information on biodiesel and it’s gasoline equivalent, ethanol.