‘The real stuff’: Aspen man touts vegetable oil fuel
John Harvey is no Teva-wearing Ralph Nader-supporter with “Save the whales” bumper stickers on his vehicle.But the burly, mohawk-sporting tow-truck driver with a Tennessee accent did recently convert his jacked-up 2000 Ford F-250 pickup truck to run on vegetable oil.Though on the surface, Harvey, 23, doesn’t exactly look like a granola-eater, he has dedicated his life to fighting the destructive habits of the gas-guzzling world.”I first heard about this when I was back in Tennessee visiting family, and my bother had a copy of Diesel Power magazine,” said Harvey, who has lived in Aspen for almost two years. “There was an article that touted free fuel for life. It was about converting your diesel engine so it could burn vegetable oil.”With conventional diesel prices inching ever upward, Harvey said, he had long been interested in the notion of alternative fuel sources.”I thought about biodiesel,” Harvey said. “But there are simply too many problems associated with it. There are purification and filtration issues, and there’s a potential problem with algae growing in it. The idea of converting to vegetable oil appealed to me a lot more.”So a few weeks ago Harvey took the alternative-fuel leap and drove to the Ojai, Calif., residence of one of the few people in the country who specializes in vegetable oil conversions.”It took two days to do the work, and it cost me $3,600 to get the conversion,” Harvey said. “But I just drove back from Ojai to Aspen, a distance of 979 miles, and I spent less than $10 on fuel.”The conversion does not really affect the engine, according to Harvey.”It’s more a matter of adding a new, vegetable-oil-specific tank and integrating that tank into the existing fuel delivery system,” he said. “You still have to keep your diesel tank, because you can’t start the engine cold by simply using veggie oil. You start it using diesel and you run it off diesel until it gets warm. Then you switch over to the veggie oil tank.”The downside to that is the extra tank takes up extra room. Harvey’s is located in the back of his truck. Other vehicles utilize trunk space. Some, he says, have auxiliary tanks installed underneath.The main issue is that it has to be insulated so the oil doesn’t freeze, Harvey said. “The upside to this is that, if you can’t find a source for veggie oil while you’re traveling, you can simply burn diesel or biodiesel.”That’s the other issue facing those who choose to convert their vehicles to vegetable oil: procuring fuel.While driving from Ojai back to Aspen, Harvey gathered his oil from restaurants. At this stage of the game, it’s not just a matter of asking restaurant owners for some used oil, it’s also a matter of education.”A lot of restaurant owners do not realize that they have a very high-grade form of fuel that they’re paying someone to haul away. They are generally happy to give it to you once you explain why you want it.”Thing is, there is a veggie oil hierarchy.”Not just any veggie oil works,” Harvey said. “You want it as pure as possible. Sushi restaurants are best, because they don’t use it much, mainly for teriyaki. And they don’t heat it very high, which helps it retain its combustibility. Chinese restaurants are second. Mexican restaurants that make their own tortilla chips are good, too. Fry pits, like fast-food restaurants, are totally last resort. You don’t want to have chunks of french fries in your fuel.”Though Harvey is quick to tout the undeniable environmental benefits of used vegetable oil as fuel, the entrepreneurial angle has not escaped him. He hopes to open a local company that would specialize in all aspects of veggie oil as fuel.”I’m already starting to establish relationships with local restaurants,” he said. He said he would like to establish a purification facility that could filter used oil before releasing it into the marketplace. And he has hopes of joining with a local gas station to bring a veggie-oil gas pump to Aspen.”I also would like to help facilitate the conversion process for local vehicles,” Harvey said. “I know I need to start small to get people familiar with the technology.”Harvey said this is not just some nouveau hippie save-the-world pipe dream.”I was raised to hate waste,” he said. “Diesel engines are much more efficient than gas engines in the first place. And this is using readily available materials that, right now, are being thrown away. Why wouldn’t people in an environmentally friendly place like Aspen want to explore this technology further? This technology makes hybrid gas cars look wasteful. This is the real stuff.”Harvey recommends those who are interested visit vegpoweredsystems.com.
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