Biodiesel Q and A

I’ve been running on biodiesel for a few years now, and I get a lot of questions about it.  So here’s the FAQ.

Is it a special biodiesel model and if so, where do you buy one?

No, it’s just a 2003 VW Jetta diesel.  It only says “BIODIESEL” on the back because I bought the little chrome letters and stuck them on myself.

Did you have to make any special modifications?

No. Diesel motors were originally designed to run on peanut oil, not petroleum.  Older vehicles may need to upgrade some of their fuel system components, but most modern diesels are fine as-is.

Seriously? No modifications?

Okay, I made a few little improvements, but only for better performance, not because I had to. I added a Van Aken speed chip, a K&N air filter, and Bilstein heavy-duty shocks.  Oh, and when I switched over to biodiesel, I went through a couple of fuel filters in quick succession – since it runs cleaner than petro-diesel, it tends to blow all the accumulated scale and crud out of the system when you first make the transition.

Where do you get your fuel? How much does it cost?

I’m running commercial “B99” grade biodiesel, which tends to cost about 50 cents a gallon more than your standard petro-diesel.  I usually get it at Biofuel Oasis in Berkeley, CA, a worker-owned co-op.  It’s 100% recycled vegetable oil, filtered and stabilized for viscosity, so it doesn’t turn to lard-clots when the weather turns brisk. It costs a little more than petro-diesel, but I get the satisfaction of handing my money over to hippie chicks instead of Emirs.

How do you fuel up on a roadtrip?

First, I get 40-42 miles to the gallon, so I have a range of around 600 miles without refueling. If I need to go further than that, there are websites like Nearbio that let you find biodiesel stations on a map. And if it comes right down to it, I can always hold my nose and fuel up on dinosaur-juice at the local Chevron – it’s perfectly OK, performance-wise, to mix biodiesel and petro-diesel in the same tank.

Do you have any trouble starting up in cold weather?

I’m lucky enough to live in an area of California where it seldom dips below freezing. Commercial biodiesel tends to gel at around 32 degrees Fahrenheit, so users in colder climates often switch to petro-diesel in the winter or go for a 50-50 mix. If you’re truly hardcore, you can heat your fuel system.

Can you use straight vegetable oil? Or recycled oil from the back of a restaurant?

The only problem with straight vegetable oil (SVO) is that it can’t take the cold. It would probably be just fine here during the summer months, but for year-round use I’d need to make some more modifications, like installing a dual-fuel system. Used restaurant fry oil has the same problem, plus it needs to be thoroughly filtered before you can use it. So for now I’m just fine with commercial biodiesel.

Is it better than a hybrid?

In my view, absolutely. The mileage isn’t quite as good, but my car doesn’t need a couple hundred pounds of highly toxic lead-acid batteries to get the job done. And the dollars that I hand over at the pump go to domestic green businesses, not the evil knuckleheads at BP. And don’t even get me started on plug-in electrics: take a look at where the electricity comes from and you’ll realize that for most folks, these are essentially coal-burning cars.

Do you like it?

I love it. My car drives great, it gets great mileage, and the tailpipe smells like French fries.

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