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Veggie Oil Schmeggie Oil

August 14, 2009

After a ton of research, and talking to the many people we’ve found here in Oregon with conversions to their vehicles to run waste veggie oil instead of diesel, we have decided not to go forward with the conversion.

The technology is working out for lots of people, but they are usually stable in one place where they can source their veggie oil consistently and take the time to let it settle and filter.  They also need to tinker a lot, and although our engine (a 1990 Ford 7.3 indirect injection) is frequently converted well, the systems are still a little unpredictable as to how well any given vehicle will respond.

We were prepared to jump through several hoops to make this work, but the bottom line is that there were just too many ifs.    We don’t have room onboard for large filtering equipment, or for barrels to let it sit and settle, and all – ALL – of the conversion experts we talked to said they would not take on the job of filtering on the road because it’s just hugely…. messy.  You see lots of people filling their tanks at home and taking a road trip with just exactly the amount of oil they need to make the miles, but they aren’t getting new oil on the road.  The only people we’ve found attempting it while traveling are young 20 something idealists making a point with a specific tour of a “BioBus” or something along those lines.  And they work really hard to get it to work out, lining up sponsors and promotional events ahead of time and devoting a significant chunk of storage to barrels and tarps.

Restaurants these days frequently have their waste oil promised to someone on a contract basis, so it’s not as readily available in some parts of the country as it was just three years back.  We could run straight veggie oil, buying in bulk, but that’s pretty expensive too.  Okay, we were willing to take a financial hit to do something a little idealistic, but combined with the likely repairs we would need to do on the road it started sounding a little less attractive.

Next option was to consider buying pre-filtered oil from some of the many people who are filtering their own around the country.   But the existing networks online are outdated, with only a small percentage of their listed wvo-dudes still doing it.  Why?  It’s messy!  We’ve seen lots of simple filtering setups now, but none of those people, even though offering it to others, had registered in any sort of network – they were just largely selling to friends.  For engine health, it’s important to use oil from sushi, Japanese, Thai, or Mexican restaurants rather than fast food or fried meats, to avoid gluten and hydrogenated fats.  (They’ll screw up your body, they’ll screw up your engine!)  Traveling across the country would mean accepting oil from people few and far between, arranging our trip around their locations, and hoping they were using good oil and good methods.  The risk we would be taking would be with our engine.  It’s not worth it to us, and we’ve got a lot of other goals for this trip that would be overshadowed by those efforts.

Oh, disheartening, it’s not looking good.   But our naive dreams for utopian fuel!  Then one more straw:  it looks like the two-tank system may be going the way of Betamax against VHS.  Single tank systems from Germany are looking pretty reliable, and the methods being used here in the U.S. are varied and in flux – the technology is changing, and an investment in the system we wanted would likely not be contributing to a growing industry any, but jumping into one that’s going to be left behind.

So there it is.  But bless Oregon, they have Biodiesel available.  We’re running at a little over 50% in the tank right now, hauling a fuel filter to change out when ours fails, because it will, as the bio cleans the old sludge out of the system.  You build your bio percentage to introduce it gradually to the system.  Although it’s not available at stations all over, there are lots of homebrewers out there and we will make a great effort to fill up from the little guys.

We do love this strong engine and the mileage we’re getting as opposed to what we’d see with gas.  We’re glad we went to extra efforts to get a diesel camper and would recommend it to anyone.  When we settle down again, we’ll look anew at the wvo technology.  The filtering process, although messy, is very easy if you have time to let it sit.  If anyone’s considering a conversion of their own, just email me at dance.through.it@gmail.com and we’ll let you know more details of what we’ve learned.  Not a bad idea at all, just not for a family on the road long-term in a small-mid motorhome.

There you go, Yogi.  Let us know if you want to learn more!

Bright spots:

We had leaf springs added to strengthen the suspension, and it lifted the rear end up four inches.  We haven’t scraped in a driveway since!  Much better handling while driving too, better stability.  Thanks to Kaiser Brake and Alignment in Eugene for their remarkable service – we met RVers from the south who had driven all the way to Oregon to have their work done there.

Also, just added 330 watts to our solar and a really nice charge controller, so we should be able to boondock much longer without ever needing a generator.   Trent will install them this week.  Thanks to AM Solar, respected experts in the field and RV specialists, for excellent advice and company and a beautiful place to camp while we were there.

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