A question that arose at the Great Allegheny Passage Sustainability Summit last week concerns biodiesel. Eric Martin (owner, Wilderness Voyageurs and Falls City Pub) and Mike Dreisbach (owner, Savage River Lodge) both refine their used cooking oil into biodiesel for their vehicles. The questions put forth were:
1. What vehicles can run on biodiesel?
2. Do the vehicles need to be modified for such use?
In order to run a vehicle on biodiesel the vehicle must have a diesel powered engine. Diesel vehicles get great mileage (a modern VW Golf diesel gets upwards of 50 mpg). Diesels are generally the longest lasting reliable cars on the road with most engines lasting over 400,000 miles. Unfortunately in the US the diesel vehicle selection is limited as compared to the rest of the world. However, this seems to be changing as the price of gas goes up and diesel hybrid technology is developed. Volkswagen sells all their models in diesel versions called TDI, which are excellent biodiesel vehicles. Jeep is just now coming out with a diesel version of their Liberty SUV. Ford, Dodge, Chevy and GMC all currently sell diesel versions of their large pickups and Mercedes is about to come out with a new turbo diesel in the US. There are also a host of older vehicles such as Mercedes, Volvo, etc that can be found on the used market in diesel. You can find a great list of all US diesel makes and models at:
Most vehicles do not require any prep to run biodiesel. However for vehicles manufactured before 1985 the fuel line should be changed to a modern fluorinated plastic such as Viton as the biodiesel could cause swelling in some older plastic lines. If the vehicle has been running petro-diesel for a long time you should be prepared to change the fuel filter in the first few thousand miles of biodiesel use. Biodiesel will flush all the petro-diesel residue from your system and it will end up in your fuel filter. As this happens you will feel a gradual loss of power over a few days, this is the signal to change the filter.
Both Eric and Mike mentioned future ideas to perhaps begin Biodiesel Co-ops. So what does a biodiesel co-op entail? A co-op is a community of people that committ to share ideas, skills, and in most cases goods. For a membership fee, members of a co-op generally receive discounted products or goods. A biodiesel co-op would therefore use this principle based around the manufacture and distribution of biodiesel.
To understand how it operates in reality, here are a few examples of successful Biodiesel Co-ops: