Biodiesel Q and A

January 26, 2011

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.

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Global Warming vs. On-Balance Americanism

January 3, 2009

img_3151A pair of daffodils bloomed in my yard on New Year’s Day. And in that humble factoid, as a teacher of mine used to say, there’s some good news and some other news. The good news: this is traditionally a sign from the plant world that Spring is on its way, and I am Spring’s biggest fan. The other news, and I say other because I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it, is that this may be a consequence of global warming, and pretty soon I’ll need a speedboat to get from Portero Island to Nob Island when I visit the water hazard formerly known as San Francisco. Which actually sounds kind of sexy, or at least sexier than driving cross-town at rush hour.

Indeed, a little more heat and a higher high-tide line would not necessarily be a bad thing around here, especially for a SoCal boy who’s never quite gotten used to these colder climes, even after 20 years north of the 37th parallel. Needing a wetsuit to swim in the ocean still strikes me as wrong, like putting rice in a burrito or not adding “the” to the front of a freeway number. But it’s just as wrong to see a crazy mixed-up Daffodil bloom ten days after the Solstice, which could be a sign that Spring is either early or nowhere in sight, el nino or la nina, and that I’m looking at either Hawaiian-shirt weather or another four months of thule fog with intermittant showers and random overnight freezes, or possibly a plague of locusts, or whatever this crazy mixed-up climate has to offer, no matter how much recycled grease I run through the Jetta or how many cloth-bag credits I get at the supermarket. Warming trends are fine, except for the storms and the droughts and the rivers running red.

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Not Easy Being Green

November 13, 2008


I’m a biodiesel user, so I know a thing or two about kicking the petroleum habit. For starters, you’ve got to find a supplier, and then you’ll probably have to join some kind of user group before they’ll let you fill up. Expect to pay more than you would for regular diesel – as much as $2 a gallon more – even though it costs the manufacturer less to make. Don’t even think about using the diamond lane – or getting a tax credit – since in the eyes of the law you’re still driving a stinky diesel. And if you’re converting a used car to run on biodiesel for the first time, go buy a six-pack of fuel filters and learn how to install one under field conditions, like on the side of the freeway when your ride suddenly stops rolling because all that old dinosaur gack has come loose from the lines. But at the end of the drive it’s more than worth all the trouble because (a) you’re not sending a dime to the Arabs, (b) your carbon footprint is EEE-narrow, and (c) your exhaust smells like Freedom Fries.


Once you’ve mastered the basics, it’s only natural to want to take things up a level. Unless you’re smoking from Jim Mason‘s pipe, in which case you’ll want to take it up eleventy levels, and sign up for his “Escape From Berkeley” race, a mad rally to Las Vegas “by any non-petroleum means necessary.” Though I didn’t enter a car this year, I followed the event with great interest, and even played a role in helping to get the winning team across the finish line.

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