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.