Will Cox has helped upgrade over 100 cars to run on waste veggie oil.
Burning off fast-food fat is pretty easy in a car
Orillia - Want to help mother Nature and your health? Just head over to KFC and bring home a big bucket of grease. But before you lick those fingers, you should know this has nothing to do with your gas and everything to do with your car's.
This back-to-the-future trash-energy fantasy belongs to Will Cox, among other intrepid souls, who has had a hand in converting more than 100 cars to run on restaurant grease and has logged hundreds of thousands of nearly-free kilometres in his own grease vehicles.
"I was really sick of gasoline and the environmental and social issues attached to it," says Cox, who operates Veggie Fuel Systems as a side business. The easygoing contractor says he's seen increased interest from people tired of paying huge premiums for fuel burned on commutes to T.O. and from people using diesel trucks for commercial purposes.
"I get waste vegetable oil (WVO) for free and filter it for less than 5 cents a litre in materials," explains Cox, who says he goes through 200 to 300 litres a month in his converted VW Golf Turbo Diesel. Much of what he uses now is from New York Fries, because "they use very good oil."
Before you ask, "Whoa, whoa, wait a second, why didn't anyone think of this sooner?" - someone did. His name was Rudolf Diesel. Guess what was named after him? He used veggie fuel 100 years ago in his engines, but it was cheaper at the time to adapt them to fossil fuels.
Academics have been working on tests for decades, too, and a recent study conducted at an EPA-certified lab at Colorado U's National Center for Vehicle Emissions Control and Safety showed lower overall emissions than normal diesel fuel.
In case you haven't figured it out yet, you need a diesel engine in your vehicle to burn veggie grease. Cox says he can adapt a veggie system to just about any diesel, but some perform better. "The older Mercedes are ideal," he says. He had two but sold both of them to eager veggie fuel converts.
Of course, there are some hills to climb when you're not a multi-billion-dollar multinational automaker with an army of R&D engineers working out kinks.
Firstly, unless you've got a really good system in one of those old Mercs, you'll need to keep your diesel tank and install a new veggie oil one in your trunk. That eliminates some cargo space.
Second, try putting a cold stick of butter in your tank. Right, it doesn't go. To make the rectangular peg fit in the round hole, you need to heat it up. "You can shovel veg oil at -30° Celsius," says Cox. He gets around our Canadian winter issues by routing hot coolant hoses to the veggie tank to raise its temp.
Cox offers to show me how the system works, so we hop into his diesel Golf to see if it's easy and, more importantly, if it smells like donuts. The car starts on regular diesel, and a computer in the cabin lights up to tell us the temperature of the veggie oil. It's rising!
Once it nears 70 to 80° C., the system automatically switches to veggie fuel. The computer monitors everything, including how close the tank is to empty. If it runs low, the lines switch back to diesel.
The best part is, I don't notice a change when we start running on fry grease. There's no jolt, no black cloud, no choking odour, no incessant deep fryer beep, and hungry dogs aren't chasing after us.
Actually, if you stick your nose in the exhaust pipe there's a hint of fries, but gas smells a lot worse. The point is, if you weren't told you were being propelled by discarded fryer oil, you'd never know.
You do have to purge the engine of veggie oil for a while before you shut the engine off. That means normal diesel needs to run for about a minute before the car stops.
Expect to pay around $2,000 for a good veggie set-up, or $1,200 for something basic. As for fuel, that's still a hurdle. Find a friend with a restaurant. Cox says he just went to nearby restaurants and explained what he was doing. They were more than happy to give the waste to him, considering they'd been paying to have it hauled away.
He adds that by taking it away himself, he's also saving the eco impact of long-distance oil renderers who travel to his local greasy spoons. That's not making them happy, though. "I'm finding the companies that do the oil rendering are scaring people off. They were getting paid to pick it up," he says.
Wes Muir, spokesperson for Waste Management of Canada, which deals with large-scale municipal solid waste, says there's been a shift in waste perception. "There are an awful lot of scavengers of wine, pop and beer bottles. You're seeing a lot of that with commodity prices of metals. People are looking at this stuff and seeing the value."
Still, Cox says we're far from the point where there's a waste oil war.
"I really don't believe it," says Cox of scarcity suggestions, including reports on emerging grease bandits and one story that priced WVO at a whopping $1 a litre. "It's a bit of a laughing stock on forums."
So ask around. Good old Canadian canola is super, as is sunflower oil. Some folks offer already processed waste oil as a delivered service, and some want to build co-ops.
As for legalities: "From what I understand, for the person with the vehicle, if it works it works," says Andrew McDermott of the Ministry of Natural Resources. But he adds that you're probably going to void the warranty if you play with your new car's engine.
On the drive back from Orillia, I watch my gauge dip toward empty and ponder the next $50 fill-up. That's $50 Cox doesn't have to part with.
And even if some fed bean counter starts crying "fuel tax" in the near future, it will be tough to sniff out the grease exhausts or pull over every old Mercedes that's lingering at the late-night drive-through.
Cox explains how the car installation works and why it has to be done differently in Canada than in the States.