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Out of the frying pan and into the car for biofuel

From today, motoring can be cheaper and greener, says Adrian Holliday

From the The Observer – Sunday July 1, 2007

Do you want to slash your fuel bill? For some diesel car owners, it’s now possible. In a quiet shift in policy, the government has relaxed the rules on using vegetable oil, which many diesel cars – including some modern models – can run on.

Previously, anyone who ran a diesel car on vegetable oil was liable to pay duty, but from today – 1 July – this tax has been slashed, provided you don’t use more than 2,500 litres annually.

A car owner who averages 40 miles a gallon on diesel can now drive nearly 22,000 miles a year on vegetable oil before having to stump up any tax. If the driver’s average is closer to 50mpg, this allowance goes up to more than 27,000 miles a year.

Tempted? Some will be, especially if they run older models of diesel, which are easier to convert, though modern cars, such as the Ford Focus TDCi and VW Golf TDI, can also be adapted.

Mike Lawton runs Regenatec, an Oxfordshire-based company that converts a wide range of commercial and ordinary diesel vehicles. ‘Typically a fully fitted veg oil conversion will cost a bit over £1,000, including VAT,’ Lawton says. ‘That’s for an older diesel car. For a modern version you’ll need to pay around £100 extra.’

And if you’re handy at DIY, Regenatec is ready to sell you a ‘smartveg’ kit for £600, though you’ll need to spend a solid weekend doing the conversion, he warns.

But is a kit necessary? ‘It can be very difficult to start a car from cold using veg oil, especially in winter,’ he warns. ‘It’s too thick and gloopy; it needs to warm up. Our kit uses diesel to power the car for the first few minutes, then it automatically switches over to veg oil. You need to flush the engine through with diesel at the end of the day after using the car, but only for about 60-90 seconds.’

Lawton reckons that for someone with a modern diesel averaging 45mpg and covering 15,000 miles a year, the £1,100 or so spent on a fitted conversion will pay for itself in less than 18 months. From then on – provided the government doesn’t mess with the tax threshold – you’ve running on dirt-cheap, though planet-friendly, biofuel.

Potentially, you can kiss goodbye to fuel station forecourts for ever, powering your car for free, if you’re intrepid enough to use second-hand vegetable oil and are on good terms with your local pub or chippy.

Chip fat, however, does need to be filtered, otherwise you could find you’ve got rancid pieces of old kebab or fried egg clogging up the fuel pump – fatal for your car and pocket. To do this you must register as a waste carrier with the Environment Agency – go to then scroll down to Waste Carriers and Brokers Application Form.

One motorist who saved himself the expense of a conversion is Kenny Tucker, who recently bought a 1989 Mercedes-Benz 190 diesel 2.5 for just £200 off eBay. Currently using a mix of Costco soya oil and Morrison’s rapeseed oil to power his Benz, Tucker is planning a 3,000-mile drive across Europe this summer to publicise vegetable oil’s economy and ‘greenness’ – provided he can persuade restaurants en route to offload their old cooking fat.

‘The car is very strong. I’m averaging 40mpg. We’ve actually turned it into a company car; whenever we do a big trip we take the veggie Merc. It’s comfy, rugged, green – and cheap,’ he says.

Medicinal research chemist James Jenkins, however, took something of a risk when converting his 1998 Peugeot 206 1.9 diesel in October 2004. It was a leap of faith initially as the fuel pump in his Peugeot – a Lucas unit – is not considered as robust as the Bosch units many older German cars such as VWs and Mercedes use.

Nevertheless, Jenkins spent £600 on a DIY kit from Regenatec, which, with some help from the garage, took a day to fit. Since then he has covered 40,000 trouble-free miles, doing about 300 miles a week.

And the best bit? The fuel cost has been almost zero, since his Pug is powered by vegetable oil from a local pub, the Fox, in Steventon, Oxfordshire. ‘Getting rid of their old fat is often a problem for pubs. So as long as I’m regular and prompt, I have it free. Pubs often have to pay for it to be removed anyway.’

He drains the oil into a 55-gallon drum at home, equipped with two filters. He could buy an electric pump but funnelling it in is straightforward enough. ‘It’s not like filling up at Tesco,’ Jenkins says, ‘but I’m confident of my methodology. I did a lot of research before going for it.’

Frylite’s Fuel of the Future

Concerns regarding the environment and the environmental challenges facing our planet are nothing new with daily reports and sound bites in the media predicting irreversible global climate change, rising green house gases and melting polar ice caps.

Yes, it’s true, our busy modern lifestyles are having an effect on all of these environmental changes that are taking place but what can we do on an individual level? Well the answer could be literally staring you in the face, yes, the vegetable oils used to cook the fish and chips that you might have enjoyed in the hotel bar today will be used to power vehicles up and down the country.

This is thanks to a new green initiative from Frylite, who in association with Queens University in Belfast will use the waste oil they collect from thousands of catering establishments across Ireland (including the Carlton Group of Hotels) and convert it in to bio diesel, a clean, green renewable fuel.

Speaking about the bio diesel project Eamon McCay, Managing Director for Frylite went on to explain, “bio diesel has many key advantages over traditional fossil fuels as it help reduce carbon emissions which are leading to global warming as well as reducing dangerous tailpipe emissions which are clogging up our streets in towns and cities across Ireland. Before we decided to develop the bio diesel plant we were shipping these waste oils overseas and they were being used to produce bio diesel which is in common use throughout Europe. Having examined various alternatives the logical progression was to use the million of litres of waste oil that we collect throughout Ireland every year and put it to better use to clean up our own towns and cities.”

What started as a simple business idea has now become a reality and before building a full scale plant next to the company’s headquarters in Strabane, Frylite will initially run a pilot project producing around 160,000 litres a month. Speaking about further developments Eamon went on to conclude “we’re currently in discussions with a variety of local authorities and expect to sell volume quantities of bio diesel to a number of councils throughout Northern Ireland who will use it to power their fleets of vehicles. After the pilot project, the sky’s the limit and we plan to upscale production and roll out the bio diesel business throughout Ireland so that all towns from Mizen head to Malin Head can enjoy the benefits of this new fuel of the future”

For further information about Frylite’s biodiesel plans please contact Jonathan McLaughlin, Frylite’s Group Marketing Manager on 048 71 383133.

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