Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Would you drive a car that smelled like french fries?

Alternative fuel sources for vehicles are becoming one of our favourite preoccupations. We've written before about electric cars and their hybrid half siblings; these vehicles garner a great deal of attention for their reduction in environmental damage, their propensity for lower auto insurance rates, and their promise of reduced fuel expenses—a most appealing attraction in the face of ever-increasing gas prices. What if, however, you simply aren't ready or able to afford the price difference between a conventional gas guzzler and its kilowatt munching counterpart? Are alternative fuel sources out of the question for you? Not necessarily: you could look to vegetables.

It's actually possible to run a car on vegetable oil. Since so few people are actually doing this, waste cooking oil from restaurants is available to interested consumers for free. You don't need to buy a special veggie-powered car to do this, you simply need to convert a conventional vehicle for this purpose. The conversion involves adding an appropriate fuel tank to the rear of the car with a heating element (since the oil needs to be kept hot to work this way), to attach fuel lines from the tank to the engine, a filter, and a switch system so that you can opt to use conventional fuel if you so choose. The Dancing Rabbit, a Missouri-based ecological community devoted to teaching people how to reduce their carbon footprints, operates their vehicles on discarded cooking oil alone.

At this point you may be thinking “aha—I knew this was a for-hippies-only-game,” but that isn't so. It may have begun this way, but there are people who have undertaken this conversion of their vehicles purely for the economy of it. With conversion kits available online for under $1000, it's a thrifty DIYer's paradise. So why aren't more people doing this? For one thing, it's still relatively unchartered territory. People want to see a system that's tried and true over time before they are willing to invest any part of themselves into it. Some are put off by the smell of frying that ensues when the vehicle burns cooking oil. But most significantly, there aren't actual steady supplies of veggie-fuel—the advantage of gas is that it's there, and it's regulated. While there are huge quantities of waste oil thrown out each year, those quantities still don't even cover one tenth of a percent of the annual demand for fuel. Vegetable oil as fuel is unlikely to become mainstream because producing an adequate supply would be extremely costly.

So, for now, veggie-power will remain the territory of the ultra handy, ultra frugal, and the ultra eco-conscious. If you decide to give it a go when the going's green (no pun intended) though, be sure to let us know how it goes. And who knows...your auto insurance provider might even give you a break in your premiums, given your demonstration of commitment to social responsibility.


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