July 15, 2008
Oil Crisis You Can Stomach
By Sandra Emerson
Fast food restaurants may be more than just a quick stop to fill your stomach. They could be a source for filling your gas tank, too.
Vegetable oil left over from fried food is a main ingredient in biodiesel, a renewable and more environment-friendly version of diesel fuel.
The Solar Living Institute and John T. Lyle Center for Regenerative Studies' Sustainable Workshop series at Cal Poly Pomona provided the basics Monday for those looking to produce their own biodiesel.
"With the rising prices of petroleum and diesel fuel, this helps because there are more attractive (energy sources) out there," said Mike Page, chemistry professor at Cal Poly Pomona.
The workshop was the first in a weeklong series of public workshops aimed at teaching a variety of strategies to incorporate sustainable living into daily life.
Page said the goal of Monday's workshop was to help those who plan to buy or already own a vehicle with a diesel engine.
"Diesel engines can run on straight vegetable oil, but you have to modify the engine," Page said. "Should you modify the engine or just modify the fuel?"
The recipe for biodiesel comes with different ingredient options: new or used cooking oil, potassium hydroxide or sodium hydroxide, methanol (a chemical used in antifreeze) or ethanol (from corn), and sugarcane.
The Lyle Center has been producing biodiesel for their vehicles using waste vegetable oil from the Panda Express on campus. It uses a hand-made system to filter and heat the oil, which was demonstrated for the guests.
Marvin Sawyer of Monrovia owns a diesel truck and plans to purchase a diesel car in the future, which he hopes to run on biodiesel. He said his questions on how to get things started were answered.
"If you only need a small amount of oil and you cannot make it with easy access, then it is not worth going through the process," said Sawyer. "But I learned that I can put the system together myself without getting a commercially made system."
A basic system is made up of an electric water heater, piping and valves, and can cost around $200, as opposed to a commercially built system which costs in the neighborhood of $2,500. The amount of money saved from making and using home-made biodiesel depends on the price of the ingredients. Page said there are environmental and safety benefits that come along with it, too.
"It is more friendly to the environment," Page said. "And if you throw a lit match into a bucket of biodiesel, it won't combust." Page also said biodiesel reduces carbon emissions by 20percent and is free of sulfur dioxide, a component in acid rain.
Later in the workshop, attendees were able to make a small amount of biodiesel by mixing tubes of potassium hydroxide, methanol and vegetable oil. They were later taught how to clean the fuel to get rid of any impurities that would destroy a gas tank.
Tina Smith of Boulder City, Nev., attended the workshop with her husband to learn the ways to become more energy efficient.
"You have to find a good source for the oil in order to make it cheaper and you have to make sure the oil is a good grade," Smith said. "There are some constant hurdles, but it's definitely worth it."
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