Converter kit allows restaurateur to run his diesel
truck on his ready supply of used vegetable oil
by Joy Victory
in his turbocharged Ford F-250 pickup truck, Jonathan
Pratt chuckles to himself as he drives past a gas station
with ever-increasing diesel prices. Pay more than $2.50
a gallon for diesel gasoline? Not a chance, he says, and
heads to his own free fuel source: Umami Cafe in Croton.
kitchen worker appears, carrying a giant jug of vegetable
oil once used for frying that's ironically labeled, "Do
not reuse." Pratt hooks up the jug to a hose that
filters out any loose food particles floating in the oil.
unbelievably, he pours the oil right into the fuel tank.
gallons later, Pratt's truck tank is full of French-fried
is one of an estimated 5,000 owners in the United States
who have converted their diesel cars or trucks to run
on used vegetable oil. He purchased a kit from Greasecar
Vegetable Fuel Systems, a four-year-old company based
in Florence, Mass. Its main competitor is Greasel Conversions,
Inc., based in Drury, Mo.
fuel costs and concern over air pollution have spurred
a cottage industry focused on developing alternative automotive
fuels. And, as preposterous as it sounds, these companies
are discovering that one of the easiest ways to do this
is to use waste vegetable oil as fuel.
and Greasecar both sell kits online that convert diesel
engines to run on pure or waste vegetable oil, which is
usually obtained for free from restaurant managers who
are grateful to get rid of the oily mess.
truck has been running off fryer oil for six weeks. His
truck has been problem-free, and he says that he will
save hundreds of dollars this year by sidestepping the
gas station. Plus, vegetable oil is a renewable energy
source (mostly soybean crops), and emits fewer fumes than
diesel or petroleum - not that Pratt is concerned about
not a hippie at all. It's strictly for economic reasons,"
says Pratt, a chef who co-owns three restaurants in Westchester
and Dutchess counties. "I'm laughing all the way
to the bank."
engines can't be similarly converted, because they require
starting the engine through spark plugs. A diesel engine
gets its combustion from extreme compression, making it
more versatile, especially with fuels with similar chemical
structures, such as peanut, canola or soybean oils. In
fact, this was the original intention of inventor Rudolf
Diesel, who patented the engine in 1892.
there are two ways a diesel vehicle owner can run the
engine on vegetable oil: By converting it using a kit
- what Pratt did - or by purchasing biodiesel, a blend
of soybean oil and diesel fuel that is more expensive
biodiesel is an attractive option because it doesn't require
any modifications to the engine. But a kit system is the
only way to run an engine on free used vegetable oil,
so it remains the more affordable option among individual
owners are more than happy to give away their used oil,
of (my customers) do get oil from the restaurants. The
waste vegetable oil from deep frying is a pretty abundant
waste product, especially in this country," Carven
says. "Some restaurants produce 50 gallons a day.
Because it's a waste product and it can't be thrown in
landfills, restaurants have to pay special contracted
companies to collect and dispose of the oil."
a conversion kit, which typically costs between $400 and
$1,000, doesn't completely erase the need for diesel.
A miniscule amount of diesel fuel is needed to start the
car - cold vegetable oil is too viscous to run smoothly
kit heats up the vegetable oil to the proper viscosity,
and allows the driver to switch from diesel to vegetable
oil by literally flipping a switch on the dashboard.
car can't be started on vegetable oil, so it has to be
switched back to diesel at the end of a drive, to purge
veggie oil from the car's fuel lines.
kit also comes with a separate fuel tank for the vegetable
oil, which can be kept in a truck bed or below the trunk,
where the flat tire usually rests.
says the diesel fuel gauge hasn't moved since he filled
the that tank six weeks ago. But he fills up his veggie
tank once every two to three weeks, depending on how much
driving he does between his Fishkill, Peekskill and Croton
restaurants. He estimates his truck travels 20 miles on
one gallon of vegetable oil.
most popular cars to convert are those that are already
widely available in diesel format - Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz,
other vehicles, it can require a lengthy installation,
and may need some modification, says Wally Smart, Pratt's
example, because Pratt's truck is so big, Smart had to
modify the kit by extending the fuel lines and moving
the truck's flat-tire jack out of the engine area.
first, Smart was skeptical that it would work, although
he liked the concept - he warms his repair shop in the
winter with used motor oils.
thought he was nuts," says Smart, who owns Wally's
Super Service in Mahopac. He now plans to buy a diesel
vehicle and convert it to run off waste vegetable oil.
see how well it worked after we did the installation,
it's a great thing," Smart says. "I wonder what
the school system would save us in taxes if they did this?"
Conversions founder Charlie Anderson says interest also
is growing among independent tractor-trailer truck drivers
who use enormous quantities of diesel to transport goods.
He's also been contacted by people in Central America,
where palm oil is a cheap and widely available fuel source.
But using palm oil as car fuel is controversial because
some rainforest habitat has been destroyed to plant palm
in the U.S., Anderson says business is so good that he
can barely keep up with demand.
think it's too good to be true: that it's `not going to
ruin my engine and it's going to save me money,' "
Anderson says. "But people look into it and see they
do get a benefit."
who has been driving his truck daily for six weeks, says
he gets the same response from people who notice the stickers
on his truck that say "Powered by vegetable oil."
at the stop light and people look at the car," Pratt
says. "They look over, do a double-take. They ask
me, `Is that a joke? Is that real?' "
Joy Victory at firstname.lastname@example.org or 914-694-5049.
these Web sites for additional information about cars
that run on vegetable oil:
Vegetable Fuel Systems:
Little was the mechanic in a Monday article on recycled
kitchen oil. He was misidentified in the Page 1E report.
Carven is the owner of Greasecar Vegetable Fuel Systems.
His first name and title were omitted Monday in a Page