Archive for the ‘Vegetable Oil’ Category

January 12, 2012

The East Bay Veg Oil Boon

Enough oil to get us from Oakland to LA via the South Bay Trader Joe’s circuit, no probs.

December 3, 2011

Update: Humboldt County

Sorry it’s been so long since we wrote last!  We’ve spent the past couple months traveling around Humboldt, camping in the Redwoods, checking out some tiny hippie towns (Garberville, Manila, Trinidad, Redway’s definitely not hippie but we were there for a bit), and tanning a fox hide (more on that later).  We rode with another Critical Mass in Arcata, biked around the Community Forest a million times, and took a guided tour through the Arcata Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary.  We gave an injured songbird to the Humboldt Wildlife Care Center (a volunteer actually came to us and picked it up!), and have visited both the Humboldt County Animal Shelter and the Sequoia Humane Society… “just to look.”  😉

I’ve spent countless hours wandering through the many used book stores in both Arcata and Eureka, and one day we biked from Arcata to Eureka (round trip ~20 mi.) to scout for grease.  Speaking of grease, just about every restaurant and food cart in this entire area has a contract with one biofuels company, Footprint Recycling.  Footprint wanted to sell us unfiltered oil for $3.30/gal, which we thought was ridiculous, so we haven’t had much luck in that arena.  But Max cleverly made a Craigslist post offering the service of “free turkey frier oil pick up” — and we got some callers that way!

We like the general culture of this place, but we’ve actually had a hard time “living” here.  It’s illegal to sleep in a vehicle in all of Humboldt County, and the cops are very strict.  We ended up getting a ticket (our second since leaving LA; the first was a $12 parking ticket) for $155 each for sleeping in our vehicle, so we had to figure something else out (the closest camp ground is far from town and has a 3-night limit, and the RV parks are surprisingly expensive).  We put an ad out on Craigslist asking for a driveway, and lo and behold we were blessed with a response: a wonderful family of 3 was going out of town for Thanksgiving and needed house- and cat-sitters.  We ended up parking Ollie in their driveway and getting to know their 3 adorable cats (see the pics) — they even let us stay there after they returned from vacation.  They were wonderful — thank you so much!







Neither of us wanted to celebrate Thanksgiving, since it’s basically commemorating the beginning of a genocide, so we just stayed home and watched Capitalism: A Love Story by Michael Moore.  We both really do like to eat, however, so we cooked up a big meal with seasonal food, no “holiday” necessary.






















We are currently spending a few days with my Grandma’s friend who lives in Bayside (just south of Arcata), and will head down to the Bay Area soon!


September 13, 2011

WVO Experiment Conclusion

In our previous post about our most recent WVO experiment, we explained how we took a small sample of our waste veggie oil + salt + baking soda concoction and let it sit for the same amount of time that we let our 55 gallon steel drum of oil sit, so that we’d have an idea of what was going on inside the drum.  This picture of our sample was taken after about a month of the concoction sitting and separating.  You can see how the layers separated out: oil on top, emulsion in the middle, and water (or very watery oil) on the bottom.  According to the websites (linked in the previous post), this is what was supposed to happen.  Hurrah!

Assuming that a similar separation existed in our 55 gal drum, we went ahead and siphoned off the top layer of oil from the drum.  We used a clear tube so that we could turn the pump off as soon as the color went from amber to milky white.  There was about 30 gallons of amber-colored oil, out of maybe 40 gallons total (the bottom 10 being emulsion + watery oil).  We put the good 30 gal into a holding container, and then removed the bottom 10 gal into our sludge bucket.  (This was more difficult than it sounds, as the very bottom of the drum was covered in a couple inches of thick salty sludge that had to be scooped out with a make-shift shovel!)

Once the drum was clean (“clean” being a relative term), we put the good 30 gal of oil back in and turned on the centrifuge.  This time, the centrifuge worked like a charm, removing the small amount of gunk and water that hadn’t separated out.  Several hours later we had clean oil, ready to be used as fuel!


August 21, 2011

WVO Experiment-in-progress

A couple weeks ago we had this plan to drive Ollie from Eugene to a community called Circle of Children in Lorane, then up to Corvallis — a total of about 80 miles.  We made our usual preparations: gathering waste vegetable oil from various restaurants, pouring it all into our 55 gal steel drum, and turning on the good ol’ centrifuge, and waiting.  Centrifuging a drum full of oil usually takes some 8 hours, wherein we clean out the centrifuge about every hour (and watch happily as the amount of gunk and water inside steadily decreases).  Unfortunately for us a couple weeks ago, things didn’t go as planned: instead of the oil getting cleaner, it got murkier and murkier, and the gunk in the centrifuge wasn’t decreasing much.  We had to abandon our travel plans.

We did a little research and discovered our problem: we’d come across what’s known as an emulsion, a nasty mix of oil, water, and some kind of cleaning agent like detergent (this can happen when a restaurant cleans their grill or frier and then puts the rinse water into their waste oil container.  Big biodiesel companies probably know how to handle this easily; DIY busdwellers like us have a harder time).  Any water at all is bad for a vehicle’s engine, and our centrifuge usually extracts water in our oil, but emulsions by definition contain such tiny drops of water that are so thoroughly mixed with the oil that the centrifuge can’t remove it.  Bad news.

There are a variety of websites which talk about solutions to this problem.  Several of them suggest dumping shockingly large amounts of salt and baking soda into the oil, letting it sit and separate (salt attracts the water causing it to clump together in larger droplets than would be in an emulsion; baking soda neutralizes acids), and then siphoning off the top layer of cleaner oil, leaving the salt water on the bottom of the barrel.  This particular site has great pictures of what this separation looks like.

We tried it.  We went to a grocery store, bought 5 boxes of baking soda and some 20 lbs of salt, and dumped it apprehensively (I mean hopefully!) into our 55 gal drum of oil.  Then we went galavanting around Eastern Oregon, leaving the bus in Eugene.  Before we left we scooped a sample of our mixture into a glass jar so that we’d have an idea of what was going on in there (the steel drum is not see-through so we can’t see where the layers are).  It’s been about two weeks, and our jar sample looks something like the first jar in this photo:

Presumably the top layer is the clean(er) oil, the middle layer is emulsion, and the bottom layer is salt water.  But who really knows!?

We’ll keep you updated as the experiment continues!  (We won’t be going anywhere until we figure it out!)


P.S. I forgot to mention how exactly we knew we had an emulsion on our hands.    We took a small sample of the oil that was coming out of the centrifuge (which, if everything were working correctly, should have been relatively water-free), and dumped it into a hot pan.  It sizzled and spit like crazy, which meant that there was A LOT of water mixed in with the oil.  The centrifuge wasn’t doing its job, because the water droplets were too small to be separated from the oil = an emulsion.

December 4, 2010

I wish I had known these things before……

ie. I just spilled coolant all over the place and I wish I had thought of that before…….. I think this will be updated fairly often.

-A quick mention about tubes and hoses and tube fittings and hose clamps. First, a 3/8″ aluminum fuel line will perfectly fit inside 3/8″ rubber fuel line. That means to connect them you can literally fit the aluminum line inside the rubber line and put on a hose clamp.  Second, hose clamps often need to be tightened more than you are able to with flat head screwdrivers. Use the correct size socket head with a socket wrench to get them tight enough. Third, if you use compression fittings somewhere in the system (a lot of designs call for them in certain places–they are a way to connect tube fittings straight onto aluminum lines), check on them fairly regularly to make sure they aren’t loosening themselves. It probably seems like I spend an inordinate amount of time talking about these sorts of things, but it seems like most of the conversion work is playing around with tubing and hoses and all sorts of liquids.

-If you’re running on vegetable oil and your diesel fuel gauge is going up and it seems really strange, its because it is really strange. Fuel gauges never go up……….. unless you’re filling your diesel tank with vegetable oil……. we just filled the rest of the tank with diesel and figured that a 80/20 mix of diesel/veggie oil would be alright considering we’re still in california.

-Research the vehicle you’re considering converting. Some vehicles, although they run on diesel fuel, don’t really make for good veggie oil conversions. For a lot of reasons, but they just don’t. Or maybe people have just converted a particular vehicle a bunch of times and there’s a lot of good documentation out there specific to the vehicle vs having people have no idea what a brazillian ford b-600 is. I actually got really really lucky as Ollie seems to love veggie oil, but I definitely should have done research before I just jumped in.

-Tape thread is this strange white flexible tape that you put on threads when you’re twisting pipe fittings together. For example, when you are attaching a pipe fitting to a heat exchanger, you line the threads on the fitting with pipe thread or you end up with coolant all over the ground. I have had ZERO luck with the glue-like paste that you can apparently substitute for tape. Once again, coolant all over the ground. I use the tape now.

-Filtering veggie oil can be hard. Once you convert the vehicle, you have to get fuel for it. I purchased some straight veggie oil from a coop in boulder for like $1.50/gal which was already cleaned. Now that we’re tripping up the coast we’re trying to collect our own oil and filter it ourselves. And its not easy really. Pumps run off electricity and that can be tricky to rig to your vehicle. Also, waste vegetable oil often has a lot of water in it and water is bad for diesel engines. The easiest way to filter and de-water is to let barrels sit for like 3 weeks and then draw from the top–let gravity settle out the contaminants. Turns out thats not so easy on a mobile housebus. So we’re working on it and if any of you have a centrifuge you’re just dying to get rid of, let me know ASAP


December 4, 2010

Learning about Vegetable Oil

So I wanted to be able to share some of the knowledge I picked up tinkering around with Ollie and converting it to run on SVO (straight vegetable oil). There’s a tremendous amount of information floating around on the interwebs and I think the most important skill to have coming into this is just how to research the things you’re looking for.

I’ll start with an  introduction to the “science” of using vegetable oil for diesel fuel, but I promise to make it brief and I promise I won’t try to bring Rudolf Diesel into it.

The basic idea is that vegetable oil (or animal fats for that matter) have a lot of energy in them. The obstacle is that at low temperatures they are very viscous.However, at 160 degrees F, veggie oil and animal fats have the same fluid characteristics as diesel. I could go on a bit longer about diesel engines and yadda yadda yadda, but I’ll list some websites that do a much better job below. So in order to use waste veggie oil (WVO) as fuel, you have to heat it to around 160F before it goes to the Injection Pump (engine). The way that most people do this is by using heat exchangers which draw heat from the engine coolant (the gross blueish liquid that flows in and often leaks from radiators and tastes disgusting). So there are two fuel tanks–one for diesel and the other for vegetable oil. The driver starts the vehicle on diesel, and then when the engine gets to normal temperature (the coolant is around 160F–how convenient), the driver flips a switch so that the engine is drawing from the vegetable oil tank which is being heated on the way.Voila! you’re driving on grease. Then, when the driver wants to stop, s/he switches back to the diesel tank and drives around a while. That clears all of the engine of diesel–If you don’t purge, you’ll end up with cold, gelled veggie oil in your engine and that makes for a very difficult start.

OK got that over with. So from here I’ll turn you over to a number of good resources as well as pages I’ve created elsewhere which document my greasy dramas:

Each of these three websites are also really good places to go digging around for information about particular vehicles, issues, conundrums, parts, ideas, etc.