Biodiesel

 

  Now I'm no tree hugger....

    

 

Well, okay then, I might do a bit in my spare time but...

 

 

 

  ....this makes great economic sense apart from anything else.  Plus you'll be the only person driving around next time there are fuel blockades.

  Iíve been doing this for years, long before it got really trendy to do it and Iíve arrived at a fairly sound set of principles for doing it.  I run both our vehicles on homemade fuels and never have any problems.  Never.  Iíve had little hatchbacks to Transits to big 3 litre 4x4ís in the past, all running happily.

  A couple of pearls of wisdom though:

1)        Donít get into this thinking youíre going all green and Ďcarbon neutralí.   Ok, fuel made from waste oil is almost certainly better for your footprint than normal fossil diesel but it still isn't 'neutral'.   The reasons for this are complicated but it basically comes down to how the oil crop is grown, what type of oil plant, how much artificial fertiliser was put on, how much rainforest was ripped up in the process, how much fuel the tractor used to plant / harvest it, how much energy the factory needed to process it, how much energy you are using to make it in the shed, how much crud youíve flushed down the drain whilst making it etc, etc.  Whereas crude oil simply comes up from a hole in the ground, gets distilled then put in your fuel tank Ė dead easy.  There's an incredibly detailed analysis of the energy balance of just about everything at http://ies.jrc.ec.europa.eu/uploads/media/WTT%20App%202%20v30%20181108.pdfAnyway, just donít embarrass yourself going round telling everyone youíre Ďcarbon neutralí.  Thatís clearly total claptrap.  Making biodiesel from freshly grown virgin palm oil however is totally ridiculous and almost certainly has a bigger footprint than fossil diesel.  It is quite possibly the most stupid idea anyone ever had.

2)        The days of your local chippy responding cheerfully, ďYes, mate Iíve got 200 litres in the back Ė help yourselfĒ to your question, ďCan I have your old oil when youíve finished with itĒ are long gone!  Itís like searching for Rocking Horse Poo these days and youíll have to be either very resourceful or bloody cheeky to get your hands on any.  The days of getting it for free are also looong gone - expect to pay between 15-40p per litre for it.

 

 

3)        The reasons for no. 2 are a) either a big local collector / biodiesel producer is already collecting it from them and paying for it or b) they are contractually tied up by their veg oil supplier to let them take their old oil away.

 

 

4)        Besides, no reputable caterer / landlord etc will let you take it unless you can show him you are a licensed waste carrier and are prepared to supply him with a ĎDuty of Careí waste transfer note.  This has been the law for a year or two now and both you and the supplier can end up with fines running into thousands of pounds.  Itís simple enough to get registered though Ė just fill in a form and send the Environment Agency a cheque for about 150 quid.  The licence is valid for 3 years so works out at a quid a week.  Bargain!  More details HERE

5)        Itís tempting in your initial euphoria of actually sourcing your first batch of oil to think that all your problems are over.  You may have been lucky or it may be that the oil you are picking up is so dreadfully abused and useless that every other biodieseller in the area wonít touch it with a barge pole!  You are wasting your time trying to use crappy oil Ė you throw most of it away and the hassle of trying to process it makes it counter productive.  After all these years, Iíve settled on just a few select suppliers who run pubs / restaurants with a reputation for making nice food.  That way you know they donít abuse their oil.  You get a nose for the quality of oil after a while Ė you can tell from the smell of the fryers wafting from the kitchen who changes their oil regularly and who doesnít!

6)        Donít do it with a car less than 10 years old unless you really know what youíre doing.  Modern computer controlled, common rail diesel engines will not take kindly to being asked to run on this biofuel crud.  There are loads of databases compiled by home brewers as to which cars run okay and which donít, generally found by trial and error.  I found THIS ONE a minute ago.  Start with decent oil and the rest is easyÖ

Running on 100% waste vegetable oil

  As previously mentioned, this is possibly the greenest thing to do although requires a bit of hassle.  Also requires minor mods to your car and slight mods to the way you drive and plan your journeys.

  Fortunately, when veg oil gets hot, it stops being gloopy and gets runnier.  At about the temperature that diesel engines operate (about 70-80 degrees Celsius), veg oil is about the same viscosity of cold fossil diesel which means it is within the spec that the fuel system was designed for.  The engine will hardly notice the difference when fuelled with hot veg oil instead of diesel.

  Trying to start a cold engine on gloopy veg oil is a different matter though Ė forget it!  Youíll have flattened your battery a long time before it starts.   The way round this is for the car to start and warm up on conventional fuel then, when hot enough, switch it over to veg oil.  Obviously this requires a second tank, valves and some method of preheating the veg oil before it reaches the engine.  These issues and the techniques for preparing the oil are all dealt with on numerous specialist websites.  I quite like this bloke: www.journeytoforever.org.

  Obviously, if you do lots of short journeys, this approach is a waste of time Ė youíll forever be warming the engine on diesel fuel and never get chance to switch to the veg oil.  If you do a mainly long journeys however, then itís perfect.  The mods and subsequent operation of a vehicle with a very basic system fitted require a little technical knowledge and some experience of being under a bonnet.  Get it wrong and you probably wonít wreck your car but itíll certainly ruin your day.  At the end of the day, your car isnít designed to run on veg oil so if you bugger it up itís down to you! 

  The experience of running on 100% veg oil is a fantastic one though.  The engine develops a muffled purr rather than the usual harsh bark and feels smoother.  Most owners report a slight drop in power and mpg but a slight increase in torque, especially on turbo diesels.  Plus thereís the lovely smell of whatever has been cooked in the oil wafting from your exhaust pipe.  I used to get loads of oil from a doughnut stall on the fair.  MmmmÖ  lovelyÖ.

 

 

  My lovely, lovely Landrover transplanted with a 'tweaked' 3.1 litre Isuzu Turbo Diesel.  I'd just gone up the Hardknot Pass OFFROAD and was feeling quite pleased with myself!

  Anyway, it was fitted with an extra 150 litre waste veg oil tank and would do nearly 1000 miles between fill ups.

 

 

 

  There are a few urban myths about running on waste veg oil (Or WVO as itís referred to).  ĎFactsí reported on the internet include that you run the risk of your engine oil polymerising and turning to wax (or something like that) and your fuel injectors will grow enormous stalactites and clog up.  Iíve never had this happen, or know anyone itís happened to.  This may be because I service my vehicles, even the old bangers, regularly.  New oil & filter every 3000 miles on the dot.  All diesels benefit from regular oil changes anyway, whether or not they run on homemade fuel.  They also benefit from a damn good old-fashioned thrashing from time to time too, so take it out and cane it occasionally.  Thatíll sort it out!

  My faithful Corsa did nearly a quarter of a million miles on some of the most dubious fuel imaginable and was still going okay when it dissolved into rust.

  Running a car on waste oil is about the cheapest motoring you can do.  Good used oil takes little processing, just a quick run through a reuseable 5 micron filter.  Oh, plus detergents for cleaning up gloopy footprints in the shedÖ

Biodiesel

  Biodiesel becomes more of an option if you donít really fancy modifying your car and arsing about with twin tanks etc.  It also gets a lot more attractive after the first time the missus forgets to purge the veg oil out one night and you are 2 hours late for work the next morning because the car wonít start!  Again, the relatively simple method for making it is detailed elsewhere (http://www.journeytoforever.org is good again) but donít get too bogged down with some of the rubbish on the internet.

  Firstly, you will find pages and pages of people claiming that they make it at 95% conversion etc.  This isnít actually important unless you are some sort of perfectionist and wants to make mega quality fuel for the challenge of it.  I used to work for a company doing research on state-of-the-art biodiesel reactors using microwaves and all sorts and we came to the conclusion that it is impossible to achieve the Holy Grail of 98% conversion using waste oil.  We tested a lot of fuel for people too Ė some well known big producers often sent us samples in with as low as 40% conversion.  Not many got past 80% and I donít think anyone ever hit 90%.  The point is, unless you are trying to achieve a British Standard this is irrelevant.  Most home biodiesellers are merely trying to make something less gloopy than veg oil that has got enough methyl ester in to stay liquid in the winter, allow you to start from cold and will go through the fuel system without mods.

  HERE'S A SHORT CLIP OF AN EARLY CHEAP & CHEERFUL DIY SET UP  IN THE SHED.  You can just chuck the chemicals in and itíll still do an excellent conversion.

  Again, use decent waste oil, not the gloopy black stuff or youíre wasting your time.

TOP TIP - keep plenty of cheap vinegar handy whenever making biodiesel.  I've found that it will rescue even the foulest, most horrible emulsified gloop if plenty of it is added during a water wash on a dodgy batch.

Waste veg oil / Diesel blends

  This is a simple way in to fuel cheapskatery.  Basically, you blend half diesel with half veg oil and end up with a half-priced semi-biofuel.  The amount of blending you can get away with depends on the particular engine and the time of year (you can run more oil in the summer and less in the winter Ė viscosity) but 50/50 works well with most engines.

  The golden rule with this (and ignore this at your peril) is to only use oil that is liquid at ambient temperature, otherwise itíll cloud up as soon as it cools.  If this happens in the fuel tank, youíre facing a world of hassle!  So just leave it in the shed for a couple of days and only decant off the liquid stuff at the top.  Donít worry, you can use the white gloopy stuff for biodiesel or wait until the summer when itíll be liquid again.  Mix the diesel in and leave it for a day or two at ambient temperature.  The reason for this is that you sometimes get a hazy sort of jelly form in the mixture which takes a while to form.  Better have it form now than in the fuel tank.  Itís some sort of reaction between something in the oil and something in the fuel.  Donít know exactly.

  Then whack it through a 5 micron bag filter, followed by a 1 micron bag filter and should be crystal clear Ďamber nectarí.  Obviously, theyíll be a cruddy, hazy pint or so in the bottom of the container you mixed it up in but donít despair, this makes excellent barbeque lighting fluid / paint brush cleaner.

   If the engineís in decent nick and the glow plugs etc are all working, it should start and run without problems.  Itíll be smoother and have that lovely veg oil smell to the exhaust.  If itís not starting well, then next time reduce the percentage of veg oil.  I shouldnít tell you this and I certainly donít recommend it but I was a bit stuck one day and too mean to fill up with diesel at the pump so I simply mixed a few litres of petrol with veg oil to thin it a bit (about 10% petrol 90% oil I reckon) and dumped it in an unconverted Escort Van.  It got me to Southampton and back (500 miles) and apart from being a sod to start the next morning, ran absolutely fine! 

 

DISCLAIMER

  IF YOU WRECK YOUR CAR, IT'S YOUR OWN STUPID FAULT.  SHOULDN'T BE SO STINGY, SHOULD YOU!

 

 

 

 

                

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