EarthTalk: I understanding that you can run a diesel
car on used cooking oil. Why would I want to do that and how
would I convert such a vehicle to do so? -- Benjamin Crouch,
The use of vegetable oil for diesel fuel has grown in popularity
in recent years, thanks to both high fuel prices and ecological
concerns. Analysts estimate that some 5,000 North Americans
have converted their diesel cars or trucks to run on vegetable
oil in the last few years alone. Those who do so usually make
a deal with a local eatery willing to hand over its used cooking
oil at the close of the business day.
The idea isn't new. The first diesel engines built in the
1890s were created to run on peanut oil to be used in developing
countries where oil reserves didn't exist. And many of the
older diesel cars and trucks still on the road today can use
straight vegetable oil, especially in warmer climates where
it won't congeal as easily as in the cold. Many modern diesel
engines, though, leave the factory requiring true diesel fuel
to run well, as straight vegetable oil can muck up intricately
engineered fuel pumps and injectors.
But drivers willing to spend between $400 and $1,000 on a
conversion kit from one of two leading vendors, Missouri-based
Golden Fuel Systems and Massachusetts-based Greasecar Vegetable
Fuel Systems, can make the switch. And fryer-friendly restaurants
are just about the only economical fuel source right now.
Buying cooking oils at the supermarket would be costly, and
consumers shouldn't expect to find filling stations pumping
vegetable oil anytime soon.
The benefits of
a conversion are more than economic. Vegetable oil is a renewable
resource derived from plants, which by nature absorb carbon
dioxide (CO2) during photosynthesis. Vegetable oil is thus
carbon neutral--burning it merely releases stored
CO2 back into the atmosphere and therefore contributes no
new greenhouse gases to the environment. By contrast, burning
gasoline in a traditional engine releases CO2 that had been
stored underground in oil, and thus contributes to global
warming. Vegetable oil also burns cleaner than regular diesel,
spewing no sulfur and much less particulate and carbon monoxide.
The conversion kits are only for diesel vehicles, as gasoline
engines do not tolerate vegetable oil as a fuel. Since a conversion
entails replacing and moving hoses and leads, as well as adding
a separate fuel tank for the vegetable oil, it is best handled
by a trained mechanic. Drivers should know that a converted
vehicle does need a small amount of regular diesel fuel to
get started, because at normal or cold temperatures vegetable
oil is too thick to properly ignite. But the vehicle can switch
over to vegetable oil once it is warmed up and the heat inside
the engine loosens its thickness so it can run through efficiently.
Another way to use vegetable oil in a diesel engine is to
blend it with regular diesel fuel. This blend has become known
as biodiesel, and works fine in regular diesel engines with
no conversion required. Biodiesel vendors have set up pumping
stations across North America, although they tend to be few
and far between. Canadians can locate biodiesel stations at
the website of the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association; Americans
can consult the website of the National Biodiesel Board.
CONTACTS: Golden Fuel Systems, www.goldenfuelsystems.com;
Greasecar Vegetable Fuel Systems, www.greasecar.com;
Canadian Renewable Fuels Association, www.greenfuels.org/biodiesel/suppliers.htm;
National Biodiesel Board, www.biodiesel.org/buyingbiodiesel/retailfuelingsites.
BY Kathy Tarantola.
founder Justin Carven poses next to his old 1980 British Mini.
He swapped out its original motor for a Diesel engine, and
then converted it to run on vegetable oil.
Is it true that some commercial fishing nets are 40 miles
long? I heard a TV commentator accuse fishing fleets of strip-mining
the oceans. If their nets are really that large, it
certainly sounds like thats what is happening! --
B. Johnson, Port Chester, NY
most destructive fishing technology ever devised, commercial
drift netting involves vertically suspending near-transparent
nylon nets in ocean waters with floats attached to the top
and weights fixed to the bottom. Some are known to be as much
as 50 miles wide, with a vertical height of about 50 feet
deep. Once set, the nets are allowed to drift with the wind
and currents (hence the term drift net) and to
snag just about everything in their paths. Drift netting is
considered to be the most efficient way to catch large amounts
of the oceans biggest fish, including tuna, swordfish,
marlin and salmon.
The problem with these gigantic nets is that they don't discriminate
between fish that can be sold for dinner tables and so-called
by-catch--marine life not intended for food but
which get hauled up anyway and then subsequently discarded
dead back into the ocean. Drift netting is responsible not
only for killing fish that will never be sold commercially,
but also for the unnecessary death of hundreds of thousands
of dolphins, seals, whales and sea turtles every year, despite
international agreements outlawing the practice.
Driftnets also sometimes break loose, sailing through the
oceans unattended, ghost fishing until they sink
to the bottom under the weight of their victims or wash up
onshore where they snag seabirds, seals and other unsuspecting
First developed by Japan in the 1970s, drift netting quickly
caught on elsewhere and within just a decade scientists began
to notice that the practice was taking a severe toll on marine
biodiversity. Various experiments were conducted that bore
out these concerns. A 1989 test using driftnets to catch tuna,
for example, killed an average of four and a half marine mammals
in every set--one whale or dolphin for every 10
tuna caught. Meanwhile, analysts observed a Japanese boat
kill 59 dolphins and small whales in just 30 sets--a rate
of almost two per set. With commercial fishing fleets legally
deploying some 30,000 miles of driftnets around the world
daily during the 1980s, the toll on marine life was no doubt
The first major effort to stop drift netting was the Wellington
Convention, which was signed in New Zealand in 1989 and put
into place a driftnet ban in the South Pacific. Four years
later, the United Nations called for an international moratorium
on the practice. Meanwhile, in 1992 Russia, Japan and the
United States created the Convention for the Conservation
of Anadromous Stocks in the North Pacific, banning all driftnets
more than 1 1/2 miles in length (anadromous refers
to fish like salmon that live in salt water but spawn in fresh
water). South Korea signed on but China did not, though it
agreed to let the U.S. Coast Guard help police its fleet.
In 2002, the European Union banned drift netting by its member
According to Earthtrust, a U.S. nonprofit committed to ending
drift netting, despite such commitments commercial fishing
fleets around the world still deploy tens of thousands of
miles of driftnets on a daily basis. While efforts to stop
the practice have no doubt had some effect, drift netting
remains one of the biggest drivers of over-fishing today.
As long as demand for tuna, salmon and other big fish continues,
drift netting--illegal or otherwise--is likely to continue
to wreak havoc on the worlds marine ecosystems.
CONTACT: Earthtrusts DriftNetwork, www.earthtrust.org/dnw.html.
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