Archive for the 'General SVO' Category

Mat-Su College Biodiesel Class October 2014

August 28, 2014

VanniepooSorry for missing everyone at the 10th Annual Renewable Energy Fair, but we spent our summer veggin’ around the state of Alaska in our 1982 Vegoil-converted VW Vanagon Westfalia – lots of fun with cost-free carbon-free fuel!

Once again, UAA Mat-Su College is offering a BASICS OF BIODIESEL AND VEGETABLE OIL FUEL SYSTEMS course for one credit in the University of Alaska System this October, 2013.

Make your own biodiesel, design a SVO-fuel system for your diesel vehicle, investigate Alaskan vegetable-oil heating options.  Proper lab techniques, basic vegetable oil chemistry and appropriate vehicles for conversion will all be covered.

Classes will be held at Mat-Su College, off Trunk Road about a mile north of the Parks Highway, past Mat-Su Regional Hospital.

We will hold FIVE 3-hour Classes on Wednesdays: October 1, 8, 15, 22, 29 from 5:00-8:00pm.

Register directly through Mat-Su College at Course# RE A194F

Call the college at 907-745-9746 or instructor Will Taygan at 907-688-5288 for more information.

Full disclosure: I’ll be teaching this class. Veg On!


Fatty Acid Profiles of Biodiesel Feedstock Fats and Oils

March 5, 2010
Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge.

The Renewable Energy Group has released a free Feedstock and Biodiesel Characteristics Report, a fairly comprehensive analysis of – yep, you guessed it! – a whole bunch of animal fats and vegetable oils.

One area they analyzed was the fatty acid profiles of common fats and oils used as biodiesel feedstocks.

If you don’t know already, fatty acid chains are the long skinny carbon chains dangling from the alcohol on a fat or plant oil molecule.  In naturally occurring oils the alcohol is glycerol, and holds onto three fatty acid chains.  In biodiesel the glycerol has usually been replaced with a methanol, and connects to a single fatty acid chain.

(Note: most biodiesel brewers will have heard of free fatty acids, or FFAs.  These are fatty acids that are no longer attached to their alcohol.)

As a reference point, the cetane molecule in diesel is 16 cabons long, and is fully saturated (coated, for lack of a better word) with hydrogen.  (Of course the fossilized diesel fuel lacks the alcohol on the end.)

Okay, how to read this chart:

The first number shows how many carbons long the fatty acid is, and the second number tells how many hydrogens it’s missing (in these places the carbon double bonds to itself and the oil is considered unsaturated).  If you look, most of these natural fats and oils are 16-18 carbons long, very similar to diesel!

You can guess cold weather flow properties by how unsaturated an oil is.  Straight fully-hydrogenated chains pack together tightly, like uncooked spaghetti, and usually make a butter-like solid.  Unsaturated chains (missing some hydrogens) have kinks and bends where the carbon double bonds to itself, making a tangly mess like cooked spaghetti.  These unsaturated oils tend to flow better at cold temperatures (note: “hydrogenated” oils are unsaturated ones that have been treated to become saturated.)

Although unsaturated oils flow better, they also have slightly less power (less dense), and are less stable.  Those double bonds are more susceptible to degradation by oxidation, breaking apart and/or reconnecting into a varnish.

Veg On!

Greasy Rider Film Free on Hulu!

April 22, 2009

Greasy Rider 2In celebration of Earth Day the kind folks at Greasy Rider have put their film up on Hulu!

We showed this SVO Road-Trip documentary at the Anchorage Museum of Art last year.  Read our review here.

Veg On!

Book Review: SVO – a Compendium of Current Practice and Theory

December 15, 2008

svo-bookForest Gregg’s book SVO: Powering Your Vehicle with Straight Vegetable Oil is a great contribution to the vegoil community.

He has coupled an extensive literature review with substantial personal experience to create a dense but accessible snapshot of this quickly evolving science.

Gregg has included lots of goodies for the SVO geeks: an introduction to the chemistry of oxidative polymerization, the basic physics and bulk modulus in vegetable oil fuel injection and a comprehensive annotated bibliography for further reading.

I agree with probably 90% of his assertions, and appreciate how Gregg acknowledges the gaps in our understanding of veg-fueling diesels.  The only section that really caught me off guard was his diagrams of alternative fuel routing.  The examples seemed to point out unsatisfactory designs, but left out other acceptable designs – at least he didn’t included the routing method we use here in Alaska.

This is not an introductory arm-chair read for those thinking about converting to SVO.  That honor goes to Ray Holan’s humorous Sliding Home, with its emphasis on which SVO system is right for you – and whether you really want to run SVO at all.

Gregg’s SVO book shines as a fabulous compendium of current cutting-edge vegoil practice and theory.  A great read for those interested in designing a robust vegoil system, and for current SVO drivers who want summary of the science behind their conversions.

Veg On!

Book Review: Greasy Rider – another vegoil roadtrip.

November 20, 2008

Greasy Rider Book Cover“Two dudes, one fry-oil-powered car, and a cross-country search for a greener future.”  Greasy Rider (the book) by Greg Melville has a lot in common with Greasy Rider (the film): two guys, a Greasecar-converted SVO Mercedes, and interviews with locals across the country.  But it’s different guys, a different car, and different interviews, so don’t be confused.  The film is pure SVO stories while the book uses the vegoil roadtrip as a vehicle to cover a number of green energy topics.

It’s not a technical book.  The vegoil stories focus mostly on the driver’s personal difficulties finding and processing vegoil during the trip.  As for the rest of the book, the chapters alternate between general roadtrip tidbits – geographical and personal – and renewable energy focused side-trips.  The first side-trip was to Greasecar, and it paints a good picture of the scene there.  Later side-trips cover green building, wind power, and a “green” Wal*Mart versus a “green” Google.

The author of Greasy Rider (the book) is a magazine travel-writer, and it shows.  The writing is light – great for an airplane read – but a little too light for my tastes.  If you’re a huge fan of travel-writing or a vegetable-oil-fuel freak you’ll probably enjoy it.

Veg On!

Veg My Ride, an excellent SVO Installation DVD.

October 5, 2008

Veg My Ride is probably the best DIY Installation Documentary out there.

I first saw the DVD a couple of years ago and was blown away.  Franklin Lopez from is one of the best independent-diy video producers out there, and Veg My Ride is better than many of those Sunday-morning Do-It-Yourself TV shows.

Rob del Bueno is a good-looking, well-spoken, educated and informative host, and his band Man or Astroman? provides a great indie-punk soundtrack to the show.

Rob uses a mix of parts from Greasel (now Golden Fuel Systems) and Neoteric Biofuels (now PlantDrive), and runs you through practically every step in the installation process.  He covers parts/tools, tanks, fuel and coolant hoses, wiring, priming the system, starting the car and even takes a look at other folk’s conversions.  Quite comprehensive.  The show runs just over an hour, and is about the right length to give you the visual walk through so you can pull off your own install.

My only critique is that SVO technology is advancing so quickly that the system installed is a bit dated.  Even so, if you upgraded the valves and filter, and maybe threw on a VOControl, you’d have a solid Mercedes 240D setup.

For all of you who want to “help” install a system and learn the nuts and bolts of SVO conversions, this is the DVD for you. Don’t believe me?  Check out this review at

Need it today?  It’s $20 from

Veg On!

DVD Review: Golden Fuel Systems SVO Box Set

September 28, 2008

I finally broke down and bought the three DVD SVO Box Set that Charlie Anderson over at Golden Fuel Systems put together.

I’ve got the utmost respect for Charlie. His systems are based on good components at a good price. I do, however, believe that in general they don’t provide enough heat to adequately thin the oil, especially for Alaska.

You would do fine starting with a Golden Fuel System, then add a flat plate heat exchanger and one of PlantDrive’s electric Vegtherm heaters. I’m also a fan of the VegMax coolant-heated filter, instead of the electrically heated Racor that Golden uses. The Racor is a fine filter, but I’m already maxed out with my little VW alternators.

I also avoid pumping from other people’s grease bins, something Charlie encourages (with the restaurant owner’s permission of course). He’s diving into a legal grey area, and up here the collection companies are small, locally owned ones. We try to respect each other and not steal grease.

Okay, back to the point: Charlie’s DVDs are fairly long (2+ hours), low-budget lessons in how to SVO the Golden Fuel way. Interesting, informative, and not necessarily the way I do things – but it’s always good to compare notes.

The tone and quality is very similar to the instructional videos they’ve posted online (they’re also on youtube).

First we watched “Diesel – The Man • The Engine • The Potential.”

Well, other than the picture of Dr. Diesel on the front, there’s not a whole lot about “The Man.” There is, however some good parts explaining the difference between diesel and gasoline engines, a great visit to a diesel injection shop, and interviews with diesel truck dealers. The end, however, was my favorite part: a whole bunch of three minute snippets covering an array diesel vehicles, with little tips and opinions on converting them. Pretty cool stuff if you’re an aspiring diesel geek, or just want to be able to talk diesel with your SVO buddies.

Next was “Liquid Gold 2.”

Lots and lots of time looking at dumpsters. Looking for good oil in dumpsters, looking for bad oil in dumpsters, looking for the settling line in dumpsters. Some pumping on the road with Golden’s “One-Shot” unit, some pumping into tanks to bring home. Stuff that’s not really applicable in Alaska, since grease dumpsters are frozen solid for half the year, and we don’t pump out of other people’s dumpsters anyway. The second half was more relevant, lots of experiments with filtering. Looking for water, filtering cold oil, filtering on the cheap, disposing of the gunk, etc. All straightforward settle then clean by water-block cartridge or filter bag methods.  Charlie covers all the basics, but leaves out more advanced designs like the Frybrid still and cyclonic separators like the diesecraft centrifuges.

Finally we took a look at “SVO Seminar 2006.”

An aptly named DVD. Yep, you guessed it, 2+ hours of watching Charlie talk in front of a white board. Not as visually entertaining as the previous two, but all the information to do it the Golden Fuels way is in there. A decent bang for the buck. Hell, you’d pay $25 to see a SVO expert talk wouldn’t you?

Interested?  They’re $25 a piece or $50 for the 3-DVD set from Golden Fuel Systems, and provide some good insight into veg-fueling diesels, grease collection and SVO theory.

Veg On!

I adore biodieselSMARTER

May 8, 2008

biodieselSMARTERAll the information you need to home-brew biodiesel is floating somewhere out there on the internet. It’s finding the right information with the angle you want that’s difficult.

Issue number 6 of biodieselSMARTER showed up in my mailbox yesterday and I couldn’t put it down. First of all, it’s written by folks with sustainability in mind. The full-page ad inside the front cover reads “The greenest car you own? Mass transit. Try not to drive at all. Icebergs will float in your honor… Respect the Biodiesel.” Nice.

In addition to the regular columns, this edition includes glycerin composting trials and horror stories of illegal glycerin dumping. There are articles on desert thriving moringa and snow-planted camelina as feedstock crops. Also in the mix are a couple of farm-scale case studies, a bicycle-powered reactor built by high school students, and a piece on PrairieFire Biofuels, which serves both the SVO and biodiesel scene in Madison, Wisconsin.

The camelina article is especially pertinent for us Alaskans. In fact, Hans Geier – the Delta Canola biodiesel farmer – sent me a small packet of camelina for a little test plot I’ve got going in the orchard. Much to my chagrin, Hans and some other local farmers have been really keen on blending unheated oils with diesel and/or other thinners. Interestingly, these Albertan farmers are doing exactly that, with locally grown and crushed off-spec canola. Although in general I’m not a proponent of blending, I’m glad to see biodieselSMARTER embracing the larger sustainable biodiesel-vegoil community.

Don’t have a subscription yet? It’s a little ‘zine, but filled with quality information, and it’s only TEN BUCKS for a year-long subscription.

Veg On!

Biofuels [kind of] Blamed in Food Crisis

April 15, 2008

The Anchorage Daily News ran a New York Times article at the top of the Nation and World section today that the ADN retitled “Biofuels blamed in food crisis.”

Other than the inflammatory title, the article itself is pretty good. It admits that biofuels – especially corn-based ethanol – does have an impact, but that it is “relatively small and that energy costs and soaring demand for meat in developing countries have had a bigger impact.”

The article goes on to report that “grocery prices in the United States increased about 5 percent over the last year.”

A decade ago we were lamenting that family farms were failing because of low crop prices. The soybean growers had a market for their meal, but the oil was terribly undervalued. They went ahead and formed the National Biodiesel Board to create a market for their soybean oil. It looks like they succeeded.

That being said, it’s easy to take a good idea and implement it poorly. The giant Three Gorges Dam in China is a terrible example of hydropower. Altamont Pass in California was built in the middle of a raptor migration route, giving a wind power a bird-killing reputation that has been hard for it to shed.

There’s no way we can grow ourselves out of our fossil fuel addiction. Biofuels, however, can be a sustainable part of our future energy mix.

Capturing waste fryer oil and oil from discarded fish carcasses could provide over 13 million gallons of biodiesel in Alaska every year. Combine this with the Canola production potential of the old barley farms in Delta, and we will have a significant impact on our local energy needs – sustainably – and without completing with global food supplies.

P.S. If you want more insight on the food vs. fuel arguments check out Clayton’s post over at

Veg On!

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!