The Alaska Biodiesel and SVO Network

October 26, 2007

Ah yes, Vegetable Oil (VO or “vegoil”) as a fuel. In Germany it’s accepted and available at the pump. In the grand old US of A, biodiesel is making inroads, but it’s not available commercially in Alaska. Here it’s Do-It-Yourself (DIY) biodiesel. Of course, it gels something fierce in the wintertime, and since winter lasts the majority of the year, many DIY folks have turned to heated Straight Vegetable Oil (SVO) as a environmental, political and economic solution.

Just a note, biodiesel is oil that has been chemically converted to run in any diesel without modification. Straight Vegetable Oil systems can run plain old vegetable oil, but require a diesel vehicle to be converted so it has a fully heated fuel system.

Interestingly, you can take a good idea and implement it poorly. The devastation of Indonesian rainforest for palm oil biodiesel is a travesty. Alaska, however, imports, deep fries, and then exports 500,000 gallons of cooking oil yearly! Not to mention 13 million gallons of fish oil that is thrown into the sea as waste carcasses each year.

The studies have been done. For just under half a million dollars, we could have a local biodiesel producer. Unfortunately, since there’s no biodiesel up here, there’s no market for biodiesel. Quite a catch-22. To make matters worse, although commercial biodiesel is available in Seattle for around $3 a gallon, we have to add another $3 shipping to get it up here. Yes, a few folks have done that, but developing a market with $6 a gallon fuel in Anchorage isn’t going to cut it.

So, it’s up to the renewable energy pioneers to bring sustainable fuel to the oil-rich last frontier.

Started as a Sierra Club Smart Energy Solution project (alaska.sierraclub.org), the Alaska Biodiesel and SVO Network (www.alaskabiodiesel.org) is just that, a loose informational network. Now folks looking into vegoil as fuel, either commercially or as backyard brewers, can connect with other folks who are doing the same thing. Hopefully we’ll avoid reinventing the wheel.

We’ve participated in local government projects to capture and use waste cooking oil, offering local restaurants a free alternative to used cooking oil disposal. We’ve created a positive relationship with the local grease collection company, who now helps provide vegoil to needy drivers. We’ve led numerous seminars on Do-It-Yourself (DIY) techniques for vegoil vehicles, and brought out converted vehicles at local festivals. In addition, we provide free consulting for folks interested in vegoil as fuel. For DIY folks we point the way to parts suppliers and to the less mechanically inclined we connect them with professional installers of SVO systems. Perhaps most importantly, however, the network helps provide a thriving community for Alaskan biodiesel and vegoil enthusiasts.

Veg on!

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