Green living has become quite the topic of conversation in recent years. As people look for ways to reduce their carbon footprint and conserve natural resources, other are finding simple, practical ways to reduce, reuse and recycle.
Back in December, Alfred Holzheu, owner of El Rancho Marketplace, decided to take a giant leap and convert his Dodge Ram turbo diesel into a green machine, fueled primarily with used cooking oil from the El Rancho deli. The savings for Alfred aren’t just on the gasoline he doesn’t have to buy.
“We were paying a dollar per gallon to have the vegetable oil carted away and thrown away and I just thought that was stupid,” he says.
He took his truck to a shop that specializes in diesel conversions and had it equipped with a heat exchanger that uses the hot water from the vehicle’s cooling system to heat the oil up to 190 degrees. At that temperature, the oil has the same viscosity as diesel fuel, which allows the high-pressure injection system to use it in the same way as regular diesel fuel.
“So not only does the store save money by not having to cart away the used oil, but now I can burn it as fuel for my truck,” says Alfred. “It’s a win-win.”
But how does it smell…?
As Alfred drives around in his green machine, probably the most common question he gets is about the smell, or lack thereof, from his refried fuel.
“Everybody things you smell like a French fry going down the road. That’s not really true,” he laughs. “But it isn’t as obnoxious as typical diesel fumes. You get this kind of a sweet smell with an acrid note that disappears almost instantly and then it’s gone.”
Alfred is quick to point out that he’s not contributing to world food shortages by consuming biodiesel which comes from virgin oil. “I’m running straight vegetable oil, what they call waste vegetable oil, or ‘wvo.’ I take the oil straight out of the fryer, I filter it down to one micron and then put it in the truck,” he explains.
Although he incurred a significant expense for the truck conversion, filtering equipment, pumps and holding tanks, Alfred figured he would recoup his investment within a year. With the current spike in gas prices, his investment might very well pay for itself much sooner.
Of course, that’s assuming that he doesn’t encounter anymore setbacks like the one he had on a recent Friday night.
“I had about 250 gallons of oil at one point stored on the outside of the store in 5-gallon containers,” he explains. “Somebody came up one Friday night and stole it all. And this is old, yucky, rancid oil so there’s no use for it except as a fuel. Somebody knew what they were getting and they stole it all.”
Despite the thievery, Alfred has been pleased with the result of his conversion. “I wanted to be greener, to save some moey on fuel, and I wanted to avoid the store having to throw the stuff away. Plus, it’s just cool!” he adds with a laugh. “It feels so weird to take oil that I’ve just fried chicken in, pour it in my truck and drive off. It seems like it shouldn’t work, right? It just doesn’t seem possible, but it works. It works fine! The truck goes over the Pass without any loss in power. Nothing changes. It’s very cool.”
This article first appeared in the Santa Ynez Valley Guest Magazine, Summer 2008. Photo by Sherrie Petersen.