Run a Diesel Vehicle on Vegetable Oil

With a few modifications, you can run a diesel vehicle on vegetable oil to power your car or truck. People across the country are using conversion kits to retrofit their vehicles. Others are taking a do-it-yourself approach. Some burn free waste vegetable oil from local restaurants; others burn clean straight vegetable oil. But there’s a catch: Technically, it may not be legal.

| December 2007/January 2008

You can run a diesel vehicle on vegetable oil. Vegetable oil can power your vehicle, but the effects on the environment are still unclear.

This may sound strange, but you can run a diesel vehicle on vegetable oil and nearly eliminate your use of traditional gas or diesel. For certain people, veggie oil could lead to major savings. Called veggie cars or grease cars, these vehicles have fuel systems modified to burn both diesel fuel and straight vegetable oil. The idea is actually a modern twist on the original intention for the diesel engine.

But even proponents say veggie oil is not for everyone because of the extra work it requires. Nevertheless, there is a small, but growing, part of the population that’s passionate about using grease to make their cars go. These people are drawn to this alternative fuel because it saves them money, gives them more control of their transportation fuel needs and makes a difference for the environment.

All this may sound too good to be true, and in some ways it is. Is it the most environmentally friendly alternative fuel? Should new vegetable oil or used grease be used? And here’s the real kicker: It’s technically illegal (see “Veggie Oil Vehicles and the Law,” below). So, before you start hoarding Wesson Oil, there are a few things you should consider.

Want Fries with That?

To get a sense of how this works, consider the example of Ty Martin. On Thursdays and Sundays the Lawrence, Kan., auto mechanic parks behind his favorite restaurant and heads inside for a hamburger and fries. As he eats with friends at the bar, kitchen staff fill a tank in the back of his truck with grease that was used to cook food just the day before. An hour later, truck and driver head home, both smelling faintly of burnt peanut oil. The used grease then propels Martin’s pickup all over town, all for free (except the food).

For Martin, burning vegetable oil means more than maintaining a dual fuel system. It’s a lifestyle, attracting the bohemian in a growing number of Americans who, for environmental, financial and/or political reasons, bristle over using fossil fuels for transportation. Whatever your motivation might be, if you have a diesel engine, it could run on cooking oil.

Keith Karolyi
11/26/2010 2:39:01 PM

Even if we use waste veggie oil for fuels, it still has an impact on the food supply since WVO is a widely used ingredient in making animal feeds. So far, the best solution I've seen is to use the veggie oil from algae. It grows faster and produces more oil per ton than anything else that grows on dry land. It is the one source that can produce enough fuel to make the U.S. energy independent without impacting food, farmland, water resources, or requiring massive re-engineering of cars and trucks. Best of all, fuel made from algal oil is carbon neutral: it takes as much CO2 out of the air to make it as it puts back in when you burn it. Some salt water species are even better oil producers than their fresh water cousins making it possible to produce fuel at sea. Best of all (in my humble opinion) small operators can get in on producing it in plants distributed widely all over the country. No need for Big Oil to control the taps. Our fuel sources can be local, reducing the need for long distance transport and will keep hundreds of billions of dollars in our own domestic pockets instead of sending it off to hostile foreign producers.

Dan Mathson
6/15/2009 3:16:52 PM

I wish people would get off the food or fuel argument when it comes to converting WASTE vegetable oil(WVO) to biodiesel. Using as waste stream to offset a very small part of diesel useage only makes sense. Biodiesel made from WVO will never amount to more than 1-2% if we converted all of it to biodiesel. But, just because biodiesel is not the green silver bullet to solve our alternative energy problem doesn't mean we shouldn't produce it. We need a whole host of technologies in the near term to reduce/replace our petro useage.

6/12/2009 12:29:48 PM

The more calories a substance has, the greater cost, including costs to grow, gather raw materials, and make the stuff. Consider, fats have been and are, valued foods: they embody energy stores, thus survival. Fats = food source valued by mammals. Harder to hunt or grow enough of it, it may be scarce and whoever goes to get it, may not come back. Fats as fuels works very nicely. But it will never work for billions of people simultaneously powering their vehicles. Just not feasible. It can only work for a few, to be a small part of the Bridge to Better Developments. Similar issues plague using alcohol as fuel. ANYthing burned to make a vehicle run is nearing obsolete. The planet just cannot sustain 6 billion people BURNing fuel to run vehicles, homes, industries. We must, very quickly, discover far better solutions. At present, the compressed air cars being developed have great promise as commuter pods and small work vehicles. There could even be kits to convert small older cars to use it.

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