Want Fries With that Truck?

Cooking oil and a juicer make this biodiesel Veggie Van go


| September/October 1998



Using this recipe for biodiesel fuel made from vegetable Joshua and Kaia Tickell recently drove a standard diesel Winnebago, dubbed the Veggie Van, 10,000 miles across the United States almost solely on homemade power. The two spent a year building their Green Grease Machine, the portable processor they trail behind the van. Its heart is an old Champion juicer embellished by a heavy-duty pump; it sucks used fryer oil (obtained from restaurants along the route) from a vat and pumps it through a series of filters and processes. A three-horsepower outboard motor mixes the oil with other ingredients in a 1978 military-issue 60-gallon steam kettle. Biodiesel is efficient (25 mpg) and costs about as much as diesel fuel (under 75 cents a gallon) but burns up to 75 percent cleaner and smells like french fries.

Ingredients: 
vegetable oil
methanol (available at gas stations; ask for the dry gas without water)
lye (available at hardware stores and some supermarkets)

  1. Buy any vegetable-based oil. Start by experimenting with one liter.
  2. Use 3.5 grams of lye and 200 ml of methanol for each liter of oil.
  3. Combine the methanol with lye to create sodium methoxide (make sure you wear rubber gloves and a respirator) and stir with a wooden spoon until dissolved.
  4. Combine all the reactants in a mixing chamber (such as an old blender or cocktail shaker). Mix vigorously for an hour.
  5. Separate the mixture into glycerin/soap and methyl ester (biodiesel) by leaving it in a container for at least eight hours (glycerin/soap will collect at the bottom).
  6. Pour the biodiesel off the top into the tank of your diesel vehicle. Top up with diesel fuel (at least one-fifth of the biodiesel amount) to prevent wear on rubber engine components. Make bars of soap out of what remains.

For more information or for the Veggie Van's California tour schedule (and journal entries), go to www.veggievan.org. You can also order the Tickells' book, From the Fryer to the Fuel Tank, online or by calling 1-800-BOOK-LOG. 

From Shift (May 1998). Subscriptions: $36/yr. (9 issues) from 35 Riviera Dr., Unit 17, Markham, ON L3R 8N4.