The original diesel engine was made to run on peanut oil. Petroleum-based diesel became the fuel of choice in the early twentieth century because it was abundant. It is possible, however, to use plant-based diesel in a diesel engine with no engine modifications. It is called biodiesel, and it is growing in popularity because it is biodegradable, non-toxic, and non-flammable. It can be made from any type of vegetable oil, although soybean oil is the most popular for commercially available biodiesel.
Some people have started to make their own biodiesel. Because it is illegal to sell biodiesel without performing lots of testing and being licensed, biodiesel cooperatives are gaining in popularity. Members of the biodiesel cooperative started by Steve Fugate of Iowa City pick up used fryer oil from restaurants and turn it into biodiesel, which they use in their vehicles. Over the past seven years, membership has varied from six to twelve people. Each member buys a share in the cooperative and then is entitled to purchase a percentage of the biodiesel that is created throughout the year. The price they pay per gallon basically covers the cost of production. Members who help produce the biodiesel pay less per gallon than do non-working members.
Members also have to pay a road use tax directly to the state of Iowa. Most drivers probably don’t realize that in many states, part of the cost of commercial gasoline or diesel is a road use tax. Because they are not filling up at a gas station, each biodiesel co-op member has to keep track of how many gallons of biodiesel they use in their car, and pay the tax on that amount to the state.
In addition to saving members a considerable amount of money on their fuel bills, the biodiesel produced by Steve’s co-op is especially ecofriendly because they use solar-thermal power and capture rainwater for use in the process of making the biodiesel.
The availability of used fryer oil varies from one place to another. In some areas, restaurants are happy to give it to you, according to Steve, because otherwise they have to pay to have it hauled away. In other areas, restaurants charge for it. If you are able to get used fryer oil free and you make your own biodiesel, you could save 40 to 50 percent on your fuel bill.
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This is an excerpt from Ecothrifty: Cheaper, Greener Choices for a Happier, Healthier Life.