Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Moving to

Thanks for reading folks.

We tried out a few blog sites when the Vegwerks Blog started, and we've decided to stick with

We'll see you there!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Biodiesel at the Renewable Energy Fair - Aug 9th Anchorage

REAP logoThe Renewable Energy Alaska Project is putting on their 3rd Annual Renewable Energy Fair Saturday August 9th, 11am-9pm at the Anchorage Parkstrip.

We will have a number of diesel vehicles running vegoil-SVO conversions for folks to check out, and will have a FREE introductory biodiesel and SVO seminar at 3pm. We've still got some spaces if you greasy drivers want to show off your rigs.

The fair itself is a great collection of renewable professionals and proponents from across the state, mixed in with great green vendors, scrumptious food and rocking tunes.

Daniel Lerch from the Post-Carbon Institute is the 5:15pm keynote speaker. "Daniel manages the Post Carbon Cities program, providing resources and assistance to local governments on peak oil and climate change. He is the author of Post Carbon Cities: Planning for Energy and Climate Uncertainty, the first major municipal guidebook on peak oil and global warming."

A big thank you goes out to the Knik Group Sierra Club for sponsoring our Alaska Biodiesel and SVO Network booth.

For those of you looking to make a day of it, other workshops include:

Deborah Williams, The Role of Renewable Energy in Addressing Global Warming
Peter Crimp, Wood Energy in Alaska – Renewed Interest in an Old Standby
Marvin Kuentzel and RJ Vasser, Renewable Energy System Design Basics

1 pm:
Robin Richardson, Just One More Reason to Watch What We Eat… The Amazing Relationship Between Food and Energy
Steve Gilbert, Fire Island Wind Update
Eric Yould, Hydropower in Alaska

2 pm:
Mike Willmon, Electric Vehicle Technology
Maryellen Oman and Cynthia Wentworth, Commuter Rail… It’s Time Has Come
David Lockard, Alaska’s Near-term Geothermal Development Prospects

3 pm:
Will Taygan, Backyard Biodiesel
Andy Baker, Solar Hot Water for Homeowners and Businesses
Chris Rose, Renewable Energy Policy in Alaska: Successes and Challenges

4 pm:
Bill Leighty, Brining Alaska’s Large, Diverse, Stranded Renewables to Alaska and Global Markets as Hydrogen and Ammonia with Firming Storage
Larry Flowers, Wind Energy: an Alaskan Opportunity
Doug Johnson, Overview of Tidal and In-Stream Hydrokinetic Projects in Alaska

Veg On!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Biodiesel Homebrew Guide: The Definitive DIY Manual.

Biodiesel Homebrew GuideBiodiesel Homebrew Guide by Maria "Girl Mark" Alovert: everything you need to know to make quality alternative diesel fuel out of waste restaurant fryer oil.

This is the book that I used years ago to learn how to brew biodiesel and build my reactor. It's currently up to edition 10.5, revised in 2007. There's no fluff here, no personal stories or politics, just the information you need to make your own biodiesel.

Girl Mark is one of the best known and well respected activists in the homebrew biodiesel community. She is famous for traversing the country leading workshops for the masses. She is the inventor of the water-heater based weldless-fumeless Appleseed processor and is a DIY expert on many internet forums.

Her book was written as a companion to her classes and it reads in a very comfortable, conversational tone. After a quick overview of biodiesel versus other veg-fuels; she jumps right into what to expect when using biodiesel, the good and the bad - in a friendly, but honest way.

With an eye for keeping it cheap and accessible to DIY folks, she emphasizes alternatives to expensive scales and chemicals, while still being safe. Biodiesel Homebrew Guide then leads you through test batches, titration, dewatering techniques, brewing fuel and quality testing.

The coolest thing about this book is its focus on chemistry for non-chemists. Yes, there's a quick explanation of what's going on in your reaction, but where the Biodiesel Homebrew Guide really shines is explaining what the reaction should look like, what it shouldn't look like, and how to test and fix substandard reactions. She explains and describes emulsions - ways to break them, and ways NOT to break them. The book tells you which popular DIY tests work, which ones aren't worth doing - and explains WHY. The book even goes into detail about the little white clumps that occasionally show up, and the creamy middle layer that we sometimes see.

Biodiesel Homebrew guide covers water-washing options, goes into depth about the pros and cons of each technique, and gives recommendations about which mist nozzles work best. It also includes a really cool section on acidulating and purifying glycerol, as what comes out of the processor is only about 40% glycerine - in a cocktail of methanol, soap and catalyst.

Finally Girl Mark provides a number of plans for building a basic or a bell-and-whistles Appleseed processor and stand-pipe wash tank.

Like other homebrew books it does not go into methanol recovery or acid-base reactions, but it does point you in the right direction - if that's where you are headed.

Biodiesel Homebrew Guide is definitely a work in progress, perhaps more like a 'zine than a book. It came as a stapled together pile of photocopies and contains a number of spelling and grammatical errors. There are also a few places where it seems that some paragraphs had been updated, but others referred to older editions of the book.

It's not a slick shiny book, but it is the DEFINITIVE guide for the thrifty do-it-yourself crowd. If you want to understand what's going on in your processor, and how to make quality fuel, then this is the book for you.

It's the perfect complement to b100supply's Home Brew Biodiesel - which has clearer plans and recipes, but doesn't go into as much depth about what you're seeing happen during the reaction.

You can buy Biodiesel Homebrew Guide for $18 (including shipping to Alaska) directly from Girl Mark at

Veg On!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Alaska Fish Oil Biodiesel Grant Reopened

AEA logoThe Alaska Energy Authority (AEA) $180,000 grant I wrote about in 13 million gallons of Alaska Fish Oil has finally been reopened.

More info at the State of Alaska's Public Notice.

Here's some excerpts from the grant's introduction:
The Alaska seafood industry processes approximately 4.4 billion pounds of fish annually, producing approximately 2.2 billion pounds of “waste,” those portions of the fish not processed for human or industrial consumption. Of that waste, approximately 62 percent is discharged into state waters. The discharged fish waste contains an estimated 13 million gallons of unrecovered fish oil.

Besides its use in pharmaceuticals and agriculture/aquaculture feeds, Alaska fish oil has been demonstrated as a suitable supplementary or displacement fuel in applications burning diesel as a thermal fuel (in boilers or heaters) and, in some circumstances, as an engine fuel. Alaska fishoil has also been demonstrated as excellent feedstock oil for the production of biodiesel (methyl esters).

A major hurdle hindering further oil recovery from Alaska-generated fish processing wastes is that the waste is generated at numerous geographically dispersed sites over relatively short periods of time in following harvesting practices of wild stocks. This tends to discourage investment in and the economic viability of fixed location oil recovery facilities, the most common model. Further, fish waste is generally not amenable to aggregation and transport as it is bulky, difficult to handle, and degrades rapidly unless frozen or otherwise preserved.

The intent of this project is to provide grant funding and technical/business support toward the development, construction, and demonstrated operation of a mobile fish oil recovery module. This module will be employed at and relocated between multiple existing processing sites thereby increasing its annual utilization and economic return. It is expected that at some processing sites, the fish oil product will be retained and utilized by the host facility and/or community to displace the use of conventional diesel engine or boiler fuels.

Need more info about the application? Contact the grant manager, James Jensen at (907) 771-3000.

Veg On!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Tuning up Vegoil (SVO, WVO) Systems.

www.alaskavegoil.orgIt's been a fun couple of weeks. We've had a few folks bring in their not-fully functioning SVO trucks (first-time installations), providing us good puzzles to figure out and vegoil systems to improve.

We like to encourage do-it-yourself vegoil conversions. We'll sell you a kit at a discount, and give you free phone support installing it.

And if you get stuck, we're available to fix things.

Yep, here at Arctic Vegwerks, we keep busy. We teach biodiesel and SVO classes and seminars, sell and install vegoil systems, spend hours giving free phone consultations for our customers, and we fix those poorly running or unfinished WVO conversions.

We're available in 4 hour chunks of time, for $150 a pop. Both systems this week took two 4-hour blocks to finish up.

First was a nice, burly, and moderately complex 3-valve Plantdrive setup on a 95 F250 Ford Powerstroke. The 3rd valve switched between looping and returning to tank. All the hoses were finished, but the electrical hadn't been started. We installed the really truly amazing VOControl on the truck. It's not cheap, but it BLOWS the competition's controllers out of the water. It's a real computer, not just a timer. More on that later.

The second was a 1996 Dodge 2500 Cummins with a Greasecar setup. It was installed by a local mechanic about a year ago, and had never run well. The mechanic is a good one and his work was beautiful. But, it was his first SVO kit and he just followed the generic Greasecar instructions. Once again I was unimpressed by the Greasecar setup. Temps rarely hit 100F, the vegoil was being pulled first through the veg filter, then the diesel filter and the tank and lines were full of gunk. We drained the tank, added a flat-plate heat exchanger and completely rerouted the engine fuel hoses. On its maiden run the temps were pegged in the 160's, yeah!

Thinking about installing a system? Need a tune-up on your existing system? We offer a free initial consultation to any Alaskan.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Vegwerks in the Anchorage Daily News.

vegwerks classRindy White from the Anchorage Daily News part together a great write-up on the Hands-On Homebrewing class I taught in Palmer last weekend. Page A4 of the Sunday paper no less!

Alaskans learn how to make their own fuel.
BIODIESEL: It's not easy, but the result is a $2 a gallon alternative.

PALMER -- Two bucks a gallon to make your own biodiesel sounds like a bargain compared to $5 to pump a gallon of gas or heating oil. But operating a processing plant in your garage might be more of a hobby than you're willing to take on.

I was also interviewed for the pickup truck story at the top of the front page of today's Sunday ADN. Check out the "ECO TRUCKS" part at the end:

Alaska's love affair with pickups sours.

The emails are already pouring in for another class, and the comments are piling up at the ADN website.

So here's some information for those FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:

Check out the events page at for upcoming classes.

I also offer private classes for groups of 5 or more. Email to set one up.

See these blog entries for more information on: sustainable Alaska biodiesel, Alaska grown fuel, Alaskan fish oil biodiesel and Alaska's place in the food vs. fuel debate.

Read more about straight vegetable oil (SVO) conversions at - using heat to thin the oil instead of removing the glycerin.

And of course you can join in the discussion at the Alaska Biodiesel and SVO yahoogroups email list.

Veg On!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Hands-On Brewing Cheat Sheet

backyard biodieselThanks to everyone who came out to the Hands-On Brewing class last weekend in Palmer. The class was full, and there was a lot of stuff to go over. In a room full of beakers and graduated cylinders a new crop of biodiesel brewers tested Salmon oil, Mill and Feed's oil, and my personal supply of cherry-picked deep-fryer Canola oil. The layout of the room made the board hard to see, so I've put together the basic directions here for folks to remember:

Always wear safety equipment. Don't breath or touch this stuff. Biodiesel is nontoxic after you've washed the methanol and glycerine/lye out, not before.

For the reference solution:
  1. add 1000ml distilled water
  2. add 1 gram NaOH or KOH
For the titration:
  1. add 10 ml isopropyl alcohol
  2. add 4 drops phenolphthalein indicator solution
  3. "blank" the jar with a few drops -OH reference solution - swirl and add until the purple stays
  4. add 1 ml oil (be exact)
  5. measure 10 ml -OH reference solution - swirl and add until the purple stays.
  6. note how many ml -OH reference solution you used.
This will be the grams (Na or K)-OH added on top of the catalyst amount to strip the free fatty acids.

For the test batch:
  1. warm your oil to 135 degrees F. (methanol boils at 148F - don't overheat!)
  2. add 220ml methanol to methanol/catalyst jar
  3. add the catalyst - 5 grams NaOH or 8 grams KOH plus the stripping grams from the titration - to the methanol.
  4. swirl the methanol/catalyst mixture until it dissolves.
  5. add 1000ml warm oil to a 2 liter soda bottle.
  6. add methanol/catalyst solution to the soda bottle.
  7. shake for one minute, then shake one minute every 15 minutes for an hour.
For more detailed information check out

Monday, June 16, 2008

Alaska Suppliers of Biodiesel Chemicals.

Roebic Drain Opener
  • 50# Bags NaOH, KOH - Garness Industrial, Anchorage 907-562-2933
  • 55 Gallon Drum Methanol - Inlet Petroleum, Anchorage 907-274-3835
  • 2# NaOH (Roebic Crystal Drain Opener) - Lowe's
  • 1# KOH - Arctic Vegwerks, Chugiak 907-688-5288
  • 12 oz. Methanol (HEET - yellow bottle)
  • Phenolphthalein Indicator - Arctic Vegwerks, Chugiak 907-688-5288

The homebrewer of biodiesel quickly discovers that you can't HazMat ship small quantities of chemicals to Alaska. It's lower 48 only.

The big chemical supplier in Anchorage is Univar. Unfortunately they DON'T want to deal with individuals, wholesale to businesses only. Furthermore, they told me on the phone that they don't want to sell to backyard brewers of biodiesel, even if they have a business license. What's more, they asked me if I had a fuel distributor license (which I do) and where my biodiesel facility was. I explained that I teach classes and seminars, including courses at UAA and APU, and they would "check" if they could sell to me. Ugh.

Next call was to Garness Industrial 907-562-2933, who resell chemicals to individuals and were great to deal with. Their single 50 pound bag price for NaOH and KOH was cheaper than the single bag price from Univar.

Garness prices June 16, 2008:

50# NaOH $57.50
50# KOH $107.00

Inlet Petroleum 907-274-3835, is a major petroleum distributor down at the Port of Anchorage. Their current price for a 55 gallon drum of methanol is $335.36, 10% more than Univar's single drum price, but they sell to individuals.

For SMALLER QUANTITIES of chemicals your options are limited.

Lowe's sells 2 pounds of pure NaOH branded as "Roebic (Heavy Duty) Crystal Drain Opener" for $8.68. The Tudor store was sold out, so I went to Wasilla to pick some up.

For those looking for Phenolphthalein Indicator solution, Arctic Vegwerks 907-688-5288 (yes, that's us) sells 30ml dropper bottles for $10. We also sell one pound bags of KOH for $10, 3 pounds for $20.

Small quantities of Methanol are sold as HEET in the YELLOW BOTTLE as most gas stations and grocery stores (I get mine at Fred Meyer).

Veg On!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Salmon Biodiesel at Oceans Festival June 7th Anchorage

oceans festival logoCome down to the Anchorage Parkstrip Saturday Afternoon for the Alaska Oceans Festival and visit the Alaska Biodiesel and SVO Network booth. We'll be sharing space with our non-profit sponsor, the Alaska Chapter Sierra Club.

Salmon oil biodiesel demonstrations will be offered every hour or so throughout the afternoon, but be sure to stick around for the evening beers and music.

Son Volt is playing a free show 7:30pm, with Fairbanks jam-Americana band Sweating Honey opening at 6pm. The 4pm keynote speaker is Alexandra Cousteau, granddaughter of legendary explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau.

As a side note, we're in need of clear 2-liter soda bottles (with caps) for upcoming biodiesel events. If you have a few please drop them off at the booth!

Veg On!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Hands-On Biodiesel Brewing Class - June 14, 2008 - Palmer

biodiesel brewingSaturday June 14, 2008 - 12:30pm

$39 at the APU Kellogg Campus, Spring Creek Farm, Palmer

Please join Arctic Vegwerks for an afternoon hands-on biodiesel brewing class and make your own fuel! Participants will learn how to collect oil, test it, and create a small batch of biodiesel to take home. Registration is required, and the course fee includes all safety equipment, lab supplies and ingredients for a test batch.

Hands-On Biodiesel Brewing is the second in a series of biodiesel and vegoil events and classes this summer. New students are welcome. See the events page at for more information.

Spring Creek Farm is located at 6404 N. Lossing Rd in Palmer, Alaska.

From Anchorage take the Glenn Hwy past Palmer and turn LEFT on Farm Loop Road, after few driveways turn RIGHT at the Spring Creek Farm sign onto Lossing Road. Continue to the white farm buildings on your right.

Sponsored by Arctic Vegwerks in cooperation with Alaska Pacific University.

Click here for registration information (132k pdf). Call Will Taygan at 907-688-5288 for more information.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Book Review: Do It Yourself Guide to Biodiesel

diy-biodiesel-bookReading the "Do It Yourself Guide to Biodiesel" by Guy Purcella was like having a long conversation with someone who is very knowledgeable about biodiesel, but on a different page.

Purcella sells a plastic-cone based biodiesel processor and obviously believes in safe, quality homebrew made in his design. Thankfully the book isn't a 230 page advertisement, but it does go to lengths to describe why the plastic cone-processor is a good idea.

Personally, I am opposed to mixing heated flammable chemicals in plastic.

He also strongly encourages folks to buy a pre-made processor or at least a kit. Now, the kit and DIY resources he recommends - Utah Biodiesel Supply, the Infopop Biodiesel-SVO forums and the Collaborative Biodiesel Tutorial are the same ones I point folks too, so I'm not sure where our paths diverged.

This may be the book for you if you want to buy a processor and have it "just work." Which, interestingly is the conversation I've been having recently with a few local folks.

Purcella goes into great detail describing everything except building a processor: the standard personal story, why petroleum is bad and biodiesel is good, oil collection, storage and titration, and quality testing homebrew, as well as storing, filtering and pumping the final product.

It's got a lot of information. Perhaps a little too dense for those just interested in biodiesel, but good for folks who are thinking about buying a pre-built reactor. This is probably the only book that lists a "buyers guide" to pre-built systems, and really lays out the big picture of what's required beyond the processor.

Of course, for those hardcore DIY types, my favorite book for actually building a processor is Home Brew Biodiesel from b100supply.

Veg On!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

I adore biodieselSMARTER

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!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

37 degrees and light.

Chugiak-Eagle RiverYep, May 1st marks the start of the outdoor biodiesel brewing season. It's also the day we're supposed to take the studs off the tires, but since there was a big snowstorm the last few days of April the state is letting us keep them on until May 15th.

There's little bit of snow on the shady side of the house, and a few of the big dumb mosquitoes flying around. Thankfully their tiny, fast and numerous cousins haven't hatched yet.

It's only 37 degrees out, but I pulled the clear frying oil cubies out of their cardboard boxes and let them sit in the sun all day. They flowed smoothly out of the boxes and through the paint strainer into my 55 gallon drum. Although the little harbor freight clear water pump was a little slow moving the oil from the drum to the appleseed. This year's new addition is a refrigerator compressor that pulls some suction to prime the pump. That priming feature is a very, very nice addition.

I've got the first 2008 batch drying in an open top drum with a bubbler in it, but I don't know how much drying it will do in the wet, heavy, almost-freezing air.

I'm also just about out of the few hundred gallons of SVO (Straight Vegetable Oil) that I filtered for 2-tank SVO driving all winter. It's time to get busy!

Oh yeah, today I sent my $1.72 in taxes to the state for my April SVO use. I'll have to have a talk with my representative about personal-use exemptions. He lives a couple miles down the road, and Alaska is very familiar with subsistence and personal use issues.

All this and I'm working by the twilight at 11:00 pm.

Yep, May in Alaska.

Veg On!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Backyard Biodiesel Basics Class - May 14, 2008 - Palmer

backyard biodieselWednesday May 14, 2008 - 7pm

FREE at the APU Kellogg Campus, Spring Creek Farm, Palmer

Please join us for an evening lecture and demonstration. We will cover both biodiesel brewing and straight-vegetable-oil conversions. Seating is limited, so arrive early to guarantee your spot.

Backyard Biodiesel Basics is the first in a series of biodiesel and vegoil events and classes this summer. See the events page at for more information.

This seminar is based on the biodiesel program offered at the Bioneers conference. Those folks who attended the session at Bioneers are encouraged to sign-up for the second class in this series, offered June 14th, where participants will be making their own batches of biodiesel.

Spring Creek Farm is located at 6404 N. Lossing Rd in Palmer, Alaska. From Anchorage take the Glenn Hwy past Palmer and turn LEFT on Farm Loop Road, after few driveways turn RIGHT at the Spring Creek Farm sign onto Lossing Road. Continue to the white farm buildings on your right.

Sponsored by Arctic Vegwerks and the Alaska Biodiesel and SVO Network, in cooperation with Alaska Pacific University.

Call Will Taygan at 907-688-5288 for more information.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Earth Day biodiesel and SVO on AK radio. logoAK radio ran a nice 5 minute segment on Alaskans burning vegoil and biodiesel during their Earth Day program. You can download the entire 04/19/2008 program from the archives at

Here's the summary for the show:
April 22nd is Earth Day, and on this week's AK, we'll pay tribute to the planet. We'll learn about sustainable agriculture, and visit a hotel that runs on the same stuff you use to cook your French fries. Plus, recycling old Crocs, and figuring out which plastic bottles are safe, and which ones might land you in hot water. It's all on AK from the Alaska Public Radio Network.
If you're looking for just the biodiesel segment, a low-quality (32k mp3) version is available here.

Veg On!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Book Review: Home Brew Biodiesel - a fabulous DIY manual.

Home Brew BiodieselB100supply has put out Home Brew Biodiesel, a unique and extremely helpful guide to brewing your own biodiesel. It reads a lot like a lab manual or a build-it-yourself guide: lots of pictures, lots of detail, lists of tools and supplies needed to build and operate a water-heater based biodiesel setup.

The Appleseed processor plans, wash tank plans, misting set-ups, overflow systems, basic electric control panels and more fill the first half of the guide. The second half provides step-by-step instructions to operating your new processor, and the appendices cover quality testing procedures, a few intermediate-level processing methods and waste stream management techniques.

Much of this information is free on the internet, but B100supply has done a wonderful job of wading through the crap to bring you the gems.

Most DIY biodiesel books spend a whole lot of time telling personal stories and explaining why petroleum is bad and how biodiesel is going to save the world and our pocketbook. Home Brew Biodiesel skips all the fluff and tells you how to build a processor, make your fuel, and test it for quality.

It's remarkable that the book not only covers collecting and testing oil, but goes into such processing details as how long to heat, how long to mix, and how to test if your batch is done. With the wide range of opinions on the internet, it's nice to have an authoritative guide to start you on your way.

This book does not go into acid-base reactions or methanol recovery, but even advanced brewers will find some of the testing techniques, waste stream treatments and wiring setups interesting.

Unfortunately for Alaskans, B100supply usually ships by UPS, which makes even little parts quite expensive. But they do offer their Home Brew Biodiesel book through cafepress, where the shipping is a reasonable five bucks.

It's definitely the best guide I've read for actually building a processor.

Veg On!

Biofuels [kind of] Blamed in Food Crisis

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

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Dr. Diesel and Peanut Oil - Myth or Legend?

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!

Monday, March 31, 2008

Which Truck Should I Get for a SVO (WVO, VegOil) Conversion?

Dodge Ram 2nd GenThe most popular post by far on the Vegwerks Blog is Which Diesel Should I Get for a SVO (WVO, VegOil) Conversion?

Not surprisingly, it's also the most common email (and phone call) question that I get.

So, loyal readers, here are my top three choices for SVO trucks:
  1. 1994-1998.5 Dodge Cummins 5.9l 2nd gen 12 valve
  2. 1989-1993 Dodge Cummins 5.9l 1st gen 12 valve
  3. 1983-1994 Ford International 6.9/7.3l pre-Powerstroke

Now, here's the details:

Straight Vegetable Oil (SVO), even when heated, is still thicker than diesel. You need a truck with an injection pump than can withstand the added stress of SVO.

The strongest injection pump out there out there is the Bosch inline P7100, found on 2nd generation 12 valve Dodge Cummins trucks.

The best SVO truck:
1994-1998.5 Dodge Cummins 5.9l 2nd gen 12 valve

Other good candidates for a vegoil conversion are pre-Powerstroke 6.9/7.3 Fords with the regular Stanadyne injection pumps and 1st generation 12 valve Dodges with the Bosch VE rotary pump. Personally, I convert a lot of VWs with the Bosch VE pump, and have good luck with them, so I would prefer a Dodge, but they are harder to find than the Fords. In early 1994 Ford made a turbodiesel version of the 7.3 IDI, it's the newest, most powerful of the old-style pre-Powerstroke engines.

Common, easier to convert diesel trucks:
1989-1993 Dodge Cummins 5.9l 1st gen 12 valve
1983-1994 Ford 6.9/7.3l IDI

Halfway through 1994 Ford switched from an Indirect Injection (IDI) engine to a Direct Injection (DI) system with a Hydraulic Electronic Unit Injection (HEUI), a type of Common-Rail system, instead of a regular mechanical injection pump. These are very common, but the fuel routing issues cause purge times to be almost 15 minutes with a standard conversion. With the extra modifications to reduce purge times, these can run vegoil very well, but may cost $1000-$2000 more.

Common diesels that may require more complex, expensive conversions:
1994.5-1997 Ford Powerstroke 7.3l 1st gen
1999-2003 Ford Powerstroke 7.3l 2nd gen

GMC/Chevy trucks have a very sensitive injection pump that is known to break when running straight vegetable oil. I don't recommend converting these trucks, although there are a few local GMC fanatics who are running SVO.

The Dodge VP44 is a radial-piston rotary pump, instead of the axial-piston VE rotary pump, and that makes a lot of difference. Basically, the VP44 is a sensitive pump that breaks easily on straight vegetable oil.

Not Recommended:
1982-2000 GMC/Chevy 6.2/6.5l
1998.5-2002 Dodge Cummins 5.9l 24 valve

Yeah, but what about the newer trucks? Ummmmm, they're newer. All have Direct Injection (DI) engines with some sort of common-rail injection system, and would require at least as much additional modifications as the 7.3l Powerstrokes. We can convert them, but consider converting them experimental and expensive.

And what about Isuzu, Toyota, International, and other early 80's trucks? Well, most of them are pretty good candidates, but info on the rare trucks is beyond the scope of this piece, although I've happily driven an old VW pickup for years on SVO.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Grease Price Conspiracies.

Alaska Mill and FeedWith diesel prices going up, there's been a lot of interest from folks trying to save a buck with our Straight Vegetable Oil (SVO) systems. Amazingly, Anchorage has a SVO-friendly grease collection company, Alaska Mill and Feed. They have been selling SVO drivers 55 gallon drums of filtered, dewatered, used (sometimes heavily used) cooking oil, known on the commodities market as "Yellow Grease."

It's been priced at 75 cents a gallon for a few years, but recently they raised the price to $1.00 a gallon. I've heard rumblings in the local vegoil community that maybe Mill and Feed is just trying to squeeze us a little, since diesel prices are so high. This couldn't be further from the truth.

A quick check at the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service's Bioenergy Portal leads us to the National Weekly Ag Energy Round-up. Yellow Grease is commanding an amazing 33 cents a pound on the open market.

Since Yellow Grease runs about 7.6 pounds per gallon, at 33 cents a pound, the market rate is just over $2.50 a gallon! Those 35 pound (about 4.5 gallon) cubies of old fryer oil are now worth $11.55, double what grease was selling for a year ago!

Even with shipping costs to the lower 48, Mill and Feed is losing money by selling grease at the low local price. Mark, the plant manager, has done a great job cleaning up their oil and keeping costs low for Alaskans. We're lucky to have such a great business supporting Alaska biofuels.

Alaska Biodiesel Night a Success!

www.alaskavegoil.orgWow, we had over 100 people turn out to yesterday's Alaska Biodiesel Night. Folks flew in from all over the state, and many of key biofuel folks were in the audience to help answer the tricky questions:

Hans Geier, the Delta Canola famer has solved the problems that growing Canola in Alaska has been faced with in the past, and spoke about his farm-scale oil press.

James Jensen from the Alaska Energy Authority updated us on fish-oil projects, specifically mentioning their use of antioxidants for fuel preservation, the portable rendering plant grant, and studies to determine the benefits to the environment by capturing the oil from carcasses instead of dumping them.

A fisherman (Brian Pauling, I think?) from Dillingham asked about shelf-life and stability of fish guts/oil/biodiesel, as they are trying to get a fish oil energy project off the ground.

Tim Hudson was there to testify about the National Park Service's successes with B100, and specifically mentioned using heated fuel systems to keep B100 driving down to -38F.

And many other folks brought up great points, from "secret diesel" recipes and unheated blending proposals, to biodiesel efforts on prop airplanes.

Anthony Destafano from SEAKsolutions, flew up from Juneau and gave a great presentation on Southeast Alaska's renewable energy potential. He focused on the fact that biodiesel can help now, and doesn't require the years of studies and infrastructure requirements that plague many renewable energy projects.

I tried to focus on the the title of the evening. "Biodiesel: What is it? Why is it so great? How can I get it?" We covered chemistry, ASTM specs, emissions, carbon and energy balances, lubrication and oxygenation benefits to the engine, and of course, how to obtain biodiesel. Basically, with the new Ultra-Low Sulfur Diesel (ULSD), you need some kind of additive to protect your engine - biodiesel is an excellent one, and B20 blends will run in unmodified diesel engines.

We at Arctic Vegwerks are working with the biofuels community and are expecting to sell ASTM biodiesel this summer, while hoping that local producers are up and running within a year. More on this later.

Furthermore, Arctic Vegwerks is offering a series of classes and seminars on backyard biodiesel this summer. More on this soon.

The evening ended with a great networking session in the foyer, Zane Ulin and crew from Premium Biofuels Alaska were handing out flyers on the BioPro, building off of Anthony Destefano's fleet-scale biodiesel project in Taku that he mention in his talk. Folks from UAA were handing out questionnaires for yet another biodiesel feasibility study, and Mark Goodman from Mill and Feed told me about the skyrocketing market for yellow grease. More on grease prices soon.

Thanks to the folks from "French Fries to Go" and "Greasy Rider" for the films, to all the great people who made this happen, especially Judy Stoll who helped staff the table at the last minute, and a big cheer to the Sierra Club for sponsoring the evening. We'll do it again.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

biodieselSMARTER: a 'zine for brewers.

biodieselSMARTEROne of the hardest things about backyard biodiesel is wading through all the crap on the internet and finding the good information. To make things harder, backyard brewing techniques are constantly evolving. What was cutting edge two years ago may have been put aside as too problematic (like the Magnesol dry-wash - it's difficult to filter out), and today's new techniques still have kinks (like the Purolite dry-wash - preventing resin compaction). There is the solid peer-reviewed biodiesel community website that will give you everything you need to get started for free, but when entering more advanced homebrew issues (acid pre-treatment, methanol recovery, GL 1-day drywash) we're at the mercy of the mob at the infopop forums.

Enter biodieselSMARTER, a DIY full-color 'zine "for biodiesel homebrewers by biodiesel homebrewers." Now in its second year, it's only $10 for a subscription and it's jam-packed with real stories about real folks doing real homebrew. Issue #5 is a full 40 pages, and its homebrew roots show with the 100% recycled paper, 100% wind-power, folded 8.5 by 11" format.

It's based around case-studies, and the only fault I find with it is that a couple of times it shares cool things that folks are doing, but doesn't give enough detail to reproduce what is happening (the living filter for wash water.) Most of the time however, the information is great (ethanol treatment for methanol exposure, sizing a purolite resin column, and Dr. Dan's TDI death row analysis.) I especially like Spanking Ester, the question and answers column from Leif at Piedmont Biofuels: 5% prewash chemistry, efforts to scale up the GL 1-day method, anti-gels for biodiesel, etc. etc.

But don't take my word for it, check out what Kumar and Lyle have written, and then send in your $10!

P.S. I just got my #3 and #4 back issues. Full-sized and beautiful. I now remember why I didn't subscribe last year: the old ad-free version was $25 a year. The new, smaller version has a few ads, but it's a measly $10 for a great 'zine. Every biodiesel brewer should have a subscription.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Book Review: Biodiesel America

Biodiesel America BookI must be honest that I have mixed feelings about the author of Biodiesel America, Josh Tickell. He has made himself and and his Veggie Van into the grassroots face of big business biodiesel. His now-famous book From the Fryer to the Fuel Tank was how we all first learned to make biodiesel, but it's terribly outdated, and even the 3rd edition has unsafe techniques. Furthermore, Josh has renounced straight vegetable oil, and although he has videos on how to make biodiesel, he is more well know for his work with the big producer lobbying group the National Biodiesel Board.

But, much of that is behind us now. The NBB is embracing sustainable biodiesel and offers a half-price membership for small producers. Josh's new film Fields of Fuel has received rave reviews, and even Kumar at Yokayo has come around and embraced Josh's efforts. Personally, I'm hoping Josh and Fields of Fuel will come up to Anchorage to help promote the expansion of biodiesel in Alaska (more on this later).

As for the book, Biodiesel America: it's a great read for the end user - the individual or the fleet manager thinking about running biodiesel. It's not a how-to book, but more of a rosy "biodiesel will save the world" kind of book. The entire first half is setting the stage: the history of petroleum, peak oil, Dr. Diesel, and alternative energy. Not enough for one book? Tickell then turns to the benefits for American farmers, and the benefits of burning biodiesel. He gets a little bogged down in describing American politics, the farm bill, and the committees and politicians that are involved in biodiesel regulations and incentives. But, he comes back with a nice section on biodiesel plants, their growth and economics.

It's a fine book to loan to your friends who are interested in running biodiesel, or for the business owner that is considering it for their fleet.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Revolution Green DVD

Revolution GreenRevolution Green is an independent, well produced film about community-based biodiesel. It tells the story of Bob and Kelly King, and their journey from diverting cooking grease from a Maui landfill to a partnership with Willie Nelson, and the truckers and farmers that have been brought into the fold by the now famous BioWillie.

Narrated by Woody Harrelson, it tells an amazing story of the people that have gathered around Bob as he has spread his expertise from Hawaii to Texas, Oregon and beyond. His plants are commercial, yes, but focused on sustainable biodiesel. These biodiesel facilities are relatively small in size, and located to complement the community, whether it be near waste grease or cottonseed crops.

There is a big focus on Willie Nelson's impact on the acceptance of biodiesel by the trucking community, and the struggles of American farmers. The film is refreshing in its ability to balance the professional, business side of the industry with the personal, family side of truckers, farmers, and celebrities' lives.

Overall, I enjoyed Revolution Green and its ability to tell the story of a few key American biodiesel pioneers, and their ability to keep biodiesel a renewable and sustainable fuel.

For $20, it's a good addition to any biofuel enthusiast's collection.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Alaska Biodiesel in the News.

biodiesel magazineI just caught wind of the January 2008 Biodiesel Magazine article on developing projects across the US. They highlighted the Alaska fish oil projects, and mentioned the grant for a portable fish-oil rendering facility, which I wrote about a few month's back. Looks like I'll have to give up some personal information and get a free subscription.

Also, the Anchorage Daily News published my response (original response here) to the Science magazine studies, which once again pointed out that destroying the rainforest is a bad way to grow oil crops for biofuels.

Veg On!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

March 26th - Anchorage Biodiesel Night - Free!

Wednesday March 26th, 7-9pm at the Anchorage Museum, 7th Ave and A St. FREE!

Speakers and films sponsored by the Alaska Biodiesel and SVO Network: a Sierra Club Smart Energy Solution, SEAKsolutions Juneau, and Anchorage Mayor Begich's Office.
Biodiesel: What is it? Why is it so great? Where can I get it?

Join us for an evening with biofuels experts from across the state, and award-winning short documentary films. Tour operators, fleet managers and interested individuals are invited to explore practical options for a sustainable Alaska.

From fish oil and Alaskan Canola crops to local restaurant grease, Alaska's biodiesel and straight vegetable oil systems can displace a significant amount of diesel, save our communities from high fuel prices, reclaim wasted resources and reduce our carbon emissions.

Speakers include Will Taygan, Arctic Vegwerks - Chugiak and Anthony Destefano, SEAKsolutions - Juneau.

Films include the short "French Fries to Go" about Telluride's Granola Ayatollah of Canola, Charris Ford and his restaurant-grease powered Grassolean, and "Greasy Rider" a cross-country voyage powered by waste vegetable oil.
For more information contact the Knik Group Sierra Club at 907-276-4048 or check in with us a

Friday, February 29, 2008

How much does an Alaska Vegoil System cost?

www.alaskavegoil.orgEveryone wants to know HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? To run on used vegetable oil, that is. Well, it's really a case of penny wise, pound foolish - or, you get what you pay for. Our systems have bomb-proof components and lots and lots of heat to protect your injection pump in the Alaska winters.

Prices as of Feb 2008 for a 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit Diesel:

$450 Basic PlantDrive TTVTS kit includes:
    $150 Vegtherm Standard
    $215 VegMax Filter
    $89 1st - 3-port Hydraforce valve (option)
    Assorted wires/connectors/fittings

additional PlantDrive parts:
$89 2nd - 3-port Hydraforce valve
$125 HP-16 Hotplate with 3/8" fittings
$450 Heated 12 Gallon Trekker Poly Tank

other tank options:
    $209 HotFox with $0 existing tank
    $209 HotFox with ~$400 aluminum tank

$1114 + 15% Alaska shipping $167.10

$1281.10 PlantDrive subtotal - this is what we can sell you if you want to do-it-yourself.

$600 (rough estimate) fittings/electrical/hardware/hose/sealant/insulation/etc.

$1821.10 parts subtotal estimate

$650 labor for Alaska Standard install (about 2 1/2 days)

$2471.10 Installed estimate for the bomb-proof 4-season Alaska Standard system.

We can install a no-frills 3-season system for a substantial savings, but we recommend the Alaska Standard for our climate. Deluxe options are available (gauges/controllers/pre-heaters), but our basic components are rock-solid in the standard system.

Shipping discounts may be available for folks picking up at our Chugiak (Anchorage) location, especially if your shipping times are flexible.

Pickup trucks require some higher-flow components and additional labor, and will cost a few hundred dollars more.

Veg On!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Fat of the Land DVD

lardcarI just finished watching "The Fat of the Land" DVD, about a biodiesel-fueled road trip from New York to San Francisco circa 1994. Wow, talk about a look at the radical pioneers. It's a well-made and enjoyable, albeit a relatively low-budget flick.

Five women, occasionally decked out in vintage waitress uniforms, alternately educate the public, raid restaurants for grease, and interview early vegoil drivers, renewable energy activists and biodiesel scientists.

It really puts things into perspective, both at how new the biodiesel scene is, but also how much history it already possesses.

It's amazing that on this first documented cross-country veg journey the crew encounters a large city bus plastered with a huge fueled by "Soy Bio-Diesel" sign, and what I assume is the the F-250 that traveled around Missouri promoting biodiesel. The current biodiesel craze has been many, many years in the making.

Oh yeah, they also have one of the coolest, most concise low-budget biodiesel demonstrations I've ever seen.

It's only $20 for the DVD, so if you're interested in another slice of American grassroots biodiesel history I would recommend it.

And thanks to Kumar at Yokayo Biofuels for reminding me about the lardcar it his blog.

Veg On!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Methanol Prices Going UP! logoI ran into another biodiesel fella at talk put on by the Alaska Center for Appropriate Technology (who also organize the yearly Bioneers conference) out at Mat-Su College last weekend, he told me that methanol was running over $400 per 55 gallon drum, and that it "almost wasn't worth it" to make biodiesel.

I called around Anchorage, and my usual source at Inlet Petroluem indeed quoted $435, or nearly $8 a gallon for a drum, larger quantities get discount, as usual. My backup supplier, wholesale only, is at Univar, and thankfully they quoted $325.88 for a drum, or around $6 a gallon. This is still way up from the $200 we were paying 2 years ago, or the $250 is was selling for last year.

This equals out to an average of $1.50 in methanol for every gallon of biodiesel made, whew!

It reinforces my intent to setup a methanol recovery system and to try using ethanol instead. I've heard the ethanol process is a bit trickier, since it's a larger molecule, but we can make ethanol at home, right?

Does anyone in Southcentral have a methanol recovery system up and running, or has anyone locally made a successful batch with ethanol? Maybe the Fairbanks coop has taken a shot at these?!

Veg On!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Gasoline and Vegetable Oil Blends

I've had a few phone calls from Alaska folks really really wanting a cheap and easy solution to running vegetable oil. Most recently was a plan to run 90% raw Canola oil, straight from the farmer's press, which would be "treated" with 10% gasoline.

Here's the response I wrote:
Hmmm. It's my belief that if it were cheap and easy everyone would be doing it. My first thoughts are "There's no such thing as a free lunch" and "You get what you pay for."

Blending straight vegetable oil with gasoline (or diesel) and burning it directly in your diesel vehicle should be considered *very* experimental. Of course biodiesel folks often get nervous about running heated SVO, and the 2-tank heated veg folks can get skittish about running those unheated vegoil blends.

The closest I've gotten to blending is the time that I left my vegoil in the injection pump overnight (I forgot to purge). I did get the 81 VW pickup started at about 40 degrees - and it didn't cause any noticeable harm to the system - but it kicked and bucked quite a bit while thick black smoke poured out until it warmed up. I try to avoid running cold oil in a cold engine.

I do know of one guy who runs unheated 100% SVO in a early 80s VW pickup down in Moose Pass (or was it Cooper Landing?). He told me he just ran it in the summer months, and it worked well for him.

For the internet fanatics, "Diesel Secret Energy" is the most famous of the blending "miracles." They add their secret formula (mostly petroleum aromatics similar to paint thinner), some gas and some diesel, whip it up and call it good. The only person I know of in Alaska that bought the stuff, decided after he mixed it up that he wasn't about to put it into his tank.

Blending, however, does happen successfully. Probably the most economically significant Alaskan example is the big WWII era generators out in Dutch Harbor at the Unisea fish plant. There they blend in fish oil, in a 50-50 ratio. Of course those are old, tolerant engines.

As far as passenger vehicles go, all the studies I've read say that unheated vegoil in an unheated engine will cause bad things: ring/cylinder varnishing, injector coking. The older 1980s studies say this happens more with blends above 20% vegetable oil.

If you're planning on running unheated SVO or an unheated blend in an older, more tolerant engine, you just might get away with it. Be sure to test your crankcase oil, or at least change it often, as vegetable oil will polymerize and thicken your motor oil.

Needless to say, I do not recommend running unheated blends. But if you insist, tell us how it goes!

Veg On!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Sustainable Biofuels are Alaska's Best Option.

The Anchorage Daily News reprinted an abbreviated article from the New York Times criticizing biofuels for releasing carbon from the soil when land is converted to Agriculture. This "new" biofuels study is not really new news, and doesn't really apply to the feedstocks we're pursuing in Alaska. But rather a similar argument against tropical Palm biodiesel that we've been hearing for years:

Here's a letter to the editor I sent to the Daily News:
Sustainable Biofuels are Alaska's Best Option.

Your article "Climate may be Harmed by Biofuels" on Friday February 8th ignores Alaska's unique biofuel opportunities. What was missing from the article comes from the Author's own press release:

"Researchers did note that some biofuels do not contribute to climate change because they do not require the conversion of native habitat."

Alaska's biofuels do not destroy native habitat, and I would argue, reduce our impact on climate change.

While the study especially condemns the clearing of tropical lands for agricultural biofuels, Alaska is dumping the equivalent of 13 millions gallons of fish oil and is exporting nearly half a million gallons of used deep fryer oil. In addition to capturing these wasted renewable resources, we need to support the Delta growers planting Canola on existing croplands for fuel to power Alaska's family farms.

Although Alaska biofuels cannot replace all our fossil fuel use, they can displace a significant amount of diesel, save our communities from high fuel prices, reclaim wasted resources, and reduce Alaska's carbon emissions.

They're not a silver bullet, but Alaska biofuels are a part of a sustainable solution.

In fact, the bigwigs at the National Biodiesel Board just announced the formation of a Sustainability Task Force, thanks to the persistent work of folks at the Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance and the Sustainable Biodiesel Summit.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Book Review: Biodiesel Power

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!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Best SVO Fuel Line Routing Design?

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 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!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Book Review: Not A Gas Station

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!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Almost Qualified Dealer License

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!

Monday, January 7, 2008

Greasy Rider DVD - SVO and American Society

Greasy RiderI 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!

Friday, January 4, 2008

Sliding Home: A Near Perfect Primer on SVO.

Sliding Home Book"Sliding 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!