Wednesday, 11 June 2008


We are in a time of worrying trends in world resources, 850 Million people are estimated to be currently facing hunger and starvation due to rising food prices. The growing of food instead of fuel will have played a part in this, particularly with George Bush wanting to secure fuel supplies and the EU talking about 5% of all fuel coming from biofuel. I think all here will know about using biofuel as a reason for cutting down rainforest. Palm oil is also used in many different foods, so don't blame biofuel alone. Its 3% biofuel to 97% palm oil in food and cosmetics.

I would like to look at how we got in this situation, and at the used oil discarded by restaurants and kitchens. Also while biofuel has come under some much deserved criticism, it is still a renewable. However it isn't the answer to future transport problems, just a small part of the answer, along with more public transport, cycling and electric vehicles.

First, how biofuel can be used in vehicles. Rudolf Diesel, after whom the diesel engine/fuel is named, used peanut oil at the world fair in 1900 for his demonstration. Later when fossil fuel use became more common, after most of the crude oil was used a make gasoline, kerosine and aviation fuel, the bit that was left that the other engines couldn't use was named after him, as his engine could cope with it.
While most of my experience has been in vegoil, ethanol is an alternative that can be added to petrol. Its produced from the fermentation of sugar or converted starch, and is normally used at 5% to 10% concentrations in petrol. Ethanol is made primarily from grains or other renewable agricultural and agroforestry feedstocks. Brazil operates almost 50% of their vehicles on pure ethanol. A 10% blend requires no engine modifications at all. There is a very limited selection of vehicles offered by original equipment manufacturers that will run on 85% ethanol blended fuel. So like vegoil, its competing for crops. But like firewood or using timber in construction, if done sustainably can be part of the solution.

You can get a diesel vehicle to run on veg oil by:
1. Converting the car to a one tank Elsbett system. It’s expensive and they say it won't work with used oil (others say you can).
2. Converting the car to a two tank ATG or similar as I've done.
3. Convert veg oil to biodiesel by adding methanol (dangerous chemical and a fossil fuel) or buy biodiesel. It will become more available soon but is hard to find now. Petrol vehicles can use ethanol which is made from sugar crop, its common in Brasil.
Try, it lists places to buy biodiesel (few near London). You can make it yourself, and LILI run a good course, see

Car manufacturers differ on how their cars perform on veg oil or biodiesel, the channel 4 biodiesel compatibility 4 cars is unfortunately no longer online. VW and the other Germans manufacturers are the best, so I originally bought a Skoda (VW engine) also a Bosch pump is good (unfortunately my Skoda had a Lucas). They generally are all happy with 5% biodiesel, some are ok with 20% and few go any higher.

Five years ago when I was first getting into the idea of using cooking oil to power cars this wasn't much talked of in public. Top Gear did a segment on this, giving the false impression that all that was needed was to add a small amount of white spirit to oil then pour it into the engine. This will work with a small number of cars, and damage others. The story was released that Tesco in Wales had stopped selling large amounts of cheap veg oil as motorists were pouring it into their cars, jokes were made about the 'frying squad' catching people not paying fuel duty. Its questionable if this is true, the rule then was that you declared the amount used at the end of the month and paid duty. It is true though that its possible to tell if someone is using diesel or oil by the smell, used oil smells of the spices used in cooking, following behind a vehicle can make you hungry.

It used to be that used oil was sent to farms and mixed into animal feed, complete with bits of kebab, despite dangers of BSE. And oil seed rape, the bright yellow plants, was allowed to be grown on set aside land. So as part of the the EU paying farmers to stop growing food, that land was used to grow a crop that could be used as oil. At the time I was campaigning to allow people to use 'waste oil' without needing to register and pay tax, partly as the oil was either fed to animals or thrown down the drain. Even today it costs the water companies a fortune to unblock drains, as restaurants have to pay to have 'waste' oil collected much of it is discarded. There was a 20p a litre discount in fuel duty for bio fuel, so when the nation was paying 41 pence tax, oil users were paying 21p. However, at the time biofuel was then still more expensive to buy, the discount wasn't enough to encourage companies to start making it. There are some, including goldenfuels in Oxford, and sundance renewables near Swansea. Most biodiesel comes from overseas agribuisness, I prefer fuel from used oil that would otherwise be discarded. I avoid that which comes from countries like Indonesia where the rainforest is cut down to grow more cash fuel crops, killing of many animals including the Orangutang. See

To collect oil from restaurants, you need a certificate so they can prove they aren't discarding it, it costs around £130 from the Environment Agency for three years. I tried to convince the EA that they shouldn't call it waste oil, as to me it isn't a waste. They insisted that to the restaurant its a waste. I asked if I bought some new oil, leant it to a restaurant to use, then they could give it to me, they didn't answer me.

I’ve been using vegoil since 2003. From 2003 to 2007 I drove a Skoda Felicia which got nearly 50 mpg on Diesel and about the same on Pure Vegoil. I converted my car with for £950 in Sep 2003. In 2007 it was written off so I got a Toyota Yaris that gets 65mpg, one of the most efficient and least polluting vehicles.

Both vehicles were converted to the 2 tank system by DieselVeg to run on vegetable oil. The Skoda had a Lucas pump, which have had problems for other users so I was careful to use new oil, or well filtered used oil. It ran for 3.5 years with no problems. I did 65,000 miles since the conversion, it had done 14,000 on diesel before that. Approximately 32,000 on diesel, 47,000 on Vegoil. Possibly thats the most for a car with a Lucas pump. I've saved nearly £600 so its well on the way to having paid for itself. Then unfortunately it got written off.
In June 2007 people using less than 2,500 litres per annum no longer need to pay duty. That equates to 33,000 miles at 60mpg, 27,500m at 50mpg, 22,000m at 40mpg, 16,500 at 30mpg.

In conclusuion, I will quote George Monbiot,'I should make it clear that turning used chip fat into motor fuel is a good thing. The people slithering around all day in vats of filth are performing a service to society. But there is enough waste cooking oil in the UK to meet a 380th of our demand for road transport fuel.' He may well be right. He doesn't mention the possibilities of growing oil from algae in ponds.
We are dependent on a fuel source that we know is running out, were past the peak of oil production and now its the more expensive hard to get at oil that will be extracted. With China and India using increasing amounts, a recession in the USA won't bring a reduction in demand or price, so expect current problems to continue. Some are saying that some new technology will come to save us, but don't hold your breath. Nuclear fusion has been expected soon for decades, there is no cheap fuel. Hydrogen is sometimes said to be the answer, but its a way of storage, it still needs a source either fossil or renewable.

We need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Biofuel is a only a small part of the answer, also reduce car use, try and drive economically, liftshare, carshare, use a bike, walk more and use public transport.

Useful Websites:
The company in Wolverhampton that converts cars to run on veg oil (I recommend them) is in Wales is quite well known. Good database on cars converted, including mine. is comprehensive Oxford based biodiesel producer also does conversions fuel duty regulations LILI book how to make biodiesel by Dan Carter, Jon Halle, Dave Darby, Phillip Hunt. They also run courses in making biodiesel. future of algae on lakes for biofuel my conversion blog my movie about converting the Yaris

No comments: