Dr. Diesel and Peanut Oil – Myth or Legend?

April 13, 2008

Ah yes, Rudolph Diesel’s 1893 compression-ignition “diesel” engine was invented to run on peanut oil, so it’s okay to burn old fryer grease in our diesels, right?

I’ve seen this peanut oil story published in books and spread widely across the internet. Unfortunately, the real history isn’t as clear as all that.

Gerhard Knothe, one of the USDA’s top biodiesel researchers, found passages in “Chemical Abstracts” 6:1984(1912) and 7:1605(1913) in which Dr. Diesel writes:

at the Paris exhibition in 1900 there was shown by the Otto Company a small diesel engine, which, at the request of the French government, ran on Arachide (earth-nut or pea-nut) oil, and worked so smoothly that only very few people were aware of it. The engine was constructed for using mineral oil and was then worked on vegetable oil without any alterations being made.

So yes, a early unmodified diesel engine did run on peanut oil, but it wasn’t Dr. Diesel’s first engine.

Veg On!

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2 Responses to “Dr. Diesel and Peanut Oil – Myth or Legend?”

  1. Patrick Kennedy Says:

    FWIW, Rudolphs early experiments were with compression ignition of coal dust. His background was in the practical science of refrigeration – cold from expansion. Working on the problems of the day, Diesel was surprised at the inefficiency of steam powered engines and set about to make a better engine using heat from compression. It was later in his life that he became an agrarian socialist, however, he always intended for his machine to be utilized for the benefit of agriculture.
    Best,
    -Patrick Kennedy

  2. Lyle Estill Says:

    True enough. I think Greg Pahl’s “Biodiesel; Growing a New Economy” lays it out nicely.


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