Archive for January, 2008

Book Review: Biodiesel Power

January 18, 2008

Yep, it’s winter in Alaska and I’m getting caught up on my reading.

Although Lyle Estill’s book Biodiesel Power is over two years old, it is still a very pertinent and inspiring slice of the American biodiesel movement.

Subtitled “The passion, the people and the politics of the next renewable fuel.” I found it a great read that covers not only Estill’s journey from backyard brewing to becoming a regional producer, but also the quickly evolving American biodiesel scene.

The other biodiesel history book out there is Biodiesel: Growing a New Energy Economy by Greg Pahl, which is also a pretty good read. It focuses on biodiesel in the global context, how biodiesel was developed and encouraged by universities and governments and how business is running with it.

There’s almost no overlap between the two books, and frankly, Biodiesel Power is a bit more entertaining. Maybe it’s because it targets folks like me: backyard brewers that give a damn, folks that want to create community, inspire, educate and generally make the world a better place. It’s really a book about the grassroots biodiesel movement.

It’s the first book I’ve read that is based around a blog. Estill’s Energy Blog chronicles his biofuel journey and he uses past enties as a framework to build his book. (Now if only Girl Mark and Kumar Plocher would package their blog archives into a book form, we’d be set!)

One thing I really appreciate about Estill’s book is the way he nods to the founders of the scene, and then moves on. He acknowledges Joshua Tickell’s small-batch blender method in his first attempts at making biodiesel, and then gently drops the technique. (I, on the other hand, have railed mightily about the dangers of mixing sparking spinning blenders and poisonous explosive chemicals.) Estill even praises the much maligned FuelMeister, not for it’s mediocre fuel-making abilities, but for the fact that it brought larger-scale brewing capabilities to the masses. (Today, I’d go for the BioPro if I needed a pre-built processor.)

Another aspect I like is the way Estill takes on the tougher questions, like sustainability, politics, policy, and the 900 pound gorilla of biodiesel: the National Biodiesel Board. The stress between the small commercial producers and the large agribusinesses is an especially good part.

Biodiesel Power is a history of the American biodiesel movement told through a personal history of veg-fueling. Read it! And yes, you can pre-order his new book: Small is Possible.

Veg On!

The Best SVO Fuel Line Routing Design?

January 16, 2008

Alaska Vegoil System Fuel Diagram

Hah! There’s two big debates in routing your fuel lines for a SVO-WVO-Vegoil system. First, to loop or not to loop. Second, to add a vegoil lift lift pump or not. We loop and in general don’t add a lift pump.

Not looping your veg return to the veg tank mirrors what most factory diesel system do, which is to return the diesel to the diesel tank. The benefit of a full-return system is that is minimizes diesel use, and purges any air you have in the system, avoiding the most common cause of poor performance and stalling (the other issue being a clogged filter).

Looping, however is what we do. Looping allows a gradual change from cold thin diesel to hot, almost as thin vegoil. It avoids the slug of cold vegoil that is inevitably sitting in the valve and the last few inches of unheated lines that are found in full-return system.

The looped system keeps circulating the heat up front, and allows us to backflush the veg filter with diesel. This backflush primes the supply valve and the few inches of unheated lines with diesel, preventing cold-weather clogging, and minimizing shock to the injection pump. There is no slug of cold vegoil, instead the heated diesel mixes with the vegoil/diesel blend in the purged supply lines, which then loops back again and mixes with the fully heated vegoil. The disadvantage of this system is that it uses a little extra diesel to purge the supply lines and uses the diesel left in the injection pump to blend into the loop.

To summarize: Looping is gentler on your injection pump and has better cold-weather properties. But, it doesn’t purge air and it uses a bit more diesel in order to purge and thin the initial slug of vegoil.

Of course, we use a 12v Vegtherm inside the loop, so we can maximize heat gain, and offer a full backflush. The Vegtherm is shut off for diesel driving, so we’re not lowering the lubricity of the diesel by unnecessarily heating it. Note that we use a Flat Plate Heat Exchanger (FPHE) on the veg side. Some folks create a longer loop into the FPHE, but that system won’t allow a full backflush. Only a 12v heater, of which the Vegtherm is the SVO standard, allows in-loop heating and a full backflush.

Okay second debate: to lift pump or not!

Older VWs do not have separate lift pumps. So no. Older Mercedes do have lift pumps, but the stock diesel filter can be rerouted before the lift pump, so the lift pump can pull from either the veg or the diesel tank, through the respective filter, and then into pump and on to the engine. So no. Fords and Dodges can generally be re-routed as well.

Newer high-pressure systems need a highly-regulated fuel pressure. So in general, yes. The pump that works well is a FASS pump. It’s guaranteed for 2 years on vegoil and has a 23 amp motor. This is not your standard pump, it’s not even the standard FASS pump. If you’re going to be converting a high-pressure (Pumpe-Düse or common-rail/CRD) system you will probably need one of these. An exception is the early Ford Powerstroke HEUI injection systems. In these, the stock filter cannot be rerouted, so Plantdrive.com provides a billet aluminum replacement filter “bypass” plug, and adds additional filters for both the veg and diesel sides. The good news is that you don’t need the extra pump.

I’ve only had one conversion where the owner wanted a cheap lift pump. They were having starting problems, and their mechanic couldn’t deal with the fuel line rerouting. We put on the cheapo $50 Solid-State Facet Pump (note: These have largely been replaced with their posi-flo pump). These should be considered disposable, but work. It should be noted that it ended being their glow plug relay, not fuel related at all.

Rerouting the lift pump allows the pump to work as it should, avoiding any chance of it pumping into a blocked valve (deadheading), and is cheaper since you don’t need an extra pump. Furthermore, the veg is always flushed from the lift pump, as a separate lift pump needs to be heated, along with the rest of the veg fuel system. The benefit of adding an extra pump is that it keeps your stock system stock, making it easier for mechanic to work on, and provides a fully redundant fuel system.

We believe in robust yet economical vegoil systems. In most cases a looped return and rerouting of the stock lift pump provides the best option for Alaskan winters.

Veg On!

Book Review: Not A Gas Station

January 12, 2008

biofuel oasisNot a Gas Station: A History of the Biofuel Oasis and How to Create Your Own Biodiesel Filling Station by Jennifer Radtke is exactly what it claims to be, and I like it.

To quote directly from their website:

The book is a personal account of co-founding the BioFuel Oasis, a biodiesel filling station in Berkeley, California. It combines the entertaining stories of starting the Oasis with the practical information to start your own station.

Yep, that’s it. I just finished reading it, and it’s well worth the $15.

The bright orange photocopied cover is testament to the pure DIY effort towards urban sustainability that this women-owned worker’s collective has brought to Berkeley, California. It’s an entertaining and empowering read. It’s not a corporate how-to book, but rather a straightforward and enjoyable grassroots guide for positive change.

Wanna make a difference and bring biodiesel to the masses? Don’t have a lot of cash, but rather a lot of passion? This book will inspire you. It inspired me.

Veg On!

The Almost Qualified Dealer License

January 10, 2008

Well, today I got a letter from the State of Alaska Department of Revenue. Surprisingly it included an official Qualified Dealer Motor Fuel License. It is unsigned, and under the address section it says “Biodiesel Refining for Personal Use.”

Needless to say, I did not apply for a Qualified Dealer (Fuel Distributor) license.

Accompanying the License was a very nice letter from Jamie Taylor at the Department of Revenue. Here’s some excerpts:

Enclosed is an Alaska Department of Revenue Motor Fuel License… This has been issued solely as an instrument for filling your Motor Fuel taxes. The license number… should appear in the “Qualified Dealer Number” box on your tax return.

Please note that this license does not enable you to act as a State of Alaska Motor Fuel Qualified Dealer.

Thank you for taking the initiative to report your taxable biodiesel refinement and use.

It’s so refreshing to have helpful and reasonable folks at the tax department.

I do have the feeling that this is more for their benefit than mine, but now I can use the electronic payment system, since it requires a dealer number. I’ll let you all know how it goes when this month’s taxes are due.

Veg On!

Greasy Rider DVD – SVO and American Society

January 7, 2008

Greasy Rider

I was pleasantly surprised after watching Joey Carey and JJ Beck’s Greasy Rider DVD. Promoted as a documentary of a cross-country road trip where the filmmakers meet “fellow Greasecar drivers, friends and critics”, I was expecting an extended Greasecar advertisement.

Although the film does feature Greasecar, it’s not a film about their systems. It’s not even really a film about the road trip. It’s a film about how SVO fits into American society.

Folks burn SVO for environmental, political and economic reasons. This isn’t a treehugging movie, or a how-to film. It’s more of a lefty critique of our oil burning ways and their social implications. There’s no preachy narrator, but rather the honest voices of the people: Noam Chomsky, Morgan Freeman, Tommy Chong, Yoko Ono, the founders of the four major kit companies and more. Vegoil is shown as one part of the solution, something we can do now.

But don’t think this is just a film with talking heads. The producers put together a nice soundtrack and did a great job interspersing intense inteviews with bits of history, fabulous road-trip vistas, average joe reactions to their Greasecar, and chats with fellow SVO drivers.

I’m going to show it to my friends.

Veg On!

Sliding Home: A Near Perfect Primer on SVO.

January 4, 2008

Sliding Home BookSliding Home: A Complete Guide to Driving Your Diesel on Straight Vegetable Oil” by Ray Holan is perhaps the best $30 a prospective SVO-WVO-vegoil driver can spend.

It is over 300 pages of humorous easy-to-read vegoil information. I’ve read it cover-to-cover, twice.

Starting with Ray’s (and his wife’s) personal story of how he came to SVO – through a love of cars, renewable energy and biodiesel-related explosions; and continuing to walkthroughs of actual installations – it’s an informative, enjoyable read.

It covers all the major kit companies, and a number of the smaller ones. It gives a short history of Dr. Diesel and his engines, and goes over the wide selection of diesels available in the North American market.

If you want to save your time and sanity and avoid wading through the myriad of internet opinions, this is the introductory book you need to read.

It is not a technical manual. Non-mechanics will love it for explaining how to run vegoil while avoiding jargon.

However, if you’re looking for the technical aspects of vegoil and your fuel injection system, you should head straight for “The Edge of Veg” by Stephen Helbig, the only other SVO-centric book.

My only critique of “Sliding Home” is that it’s a nice book, perhaps a bit too nice. It details all the kits and vehicles available, but leaves it up to you to choose the best one. At 300 plus pages, however, this is a small issue. Another issue, not really a critique, is the fact that it’s a book. Great to read, but not necessarily the latest cutting edge information. It’s not the book to design or install your system by. It’s the book to understand all the craziness you’re reading on the internet – the near perfect primer.

And, if you want opinions on the best kit or the easiest car to convert, just check out the Vegwerks Blog!

Veg On!