Birmingham News (AL)
Volume 119,
March 21, 2006

Greasy rider

Author: MIKE CASON News staff writer
Page: 1-B

ASHVILLE  A Samford University professor says he's found a way to lower the cost of his daily commute while making a small-scale contribution to conservation.

Brad ______, 35, bought an information kit over the Internet to convert used vegetable oil into fuel for his diesel-powered 1985 Mercedes. He said he's used the fuel almost exclusively for six months with few problems and at a cost of about 50 cents a gallon to produce.

''I wanted to reduce my dependence on fossil fuel,'' he said. ''When the gas prices went up, that gave me another reason to look into alternatives.''

The kit costs about $40, including a bottle of additive that's required to make the process work. Then it cost another $200 for two pumps, three filters, about 10 feet of hose and a few other items readily available at most home supply stores.

Brad gets the used vegetable oil from a restaurant. There's no charge for that because the restaurant was paying to dispose of it before.

Brad keeps his fuel-making rig in a small shed under his carport. He can whip up a 30-gallon batch in a few minutes.

The science is not new, says Andrew K., 39, one of the founders of Diesel Secret Energy of Sunset, La., the company from which he bought the kit.

He said his father, German-born Richard K., learned about it working at a Mercedes plant near Stuttgart in the late 1940s. Fuel shortages were a problem in post-World War II Germany, inspiring creative minds to find alternate sources.

Richard K. moved to the United States in the 1950s, still working for Mercedes. But he largely forgot about the vegetable oil formula during decades of affordable diesel fuel.

''He just happened to have this knowledge and never really had a use for it in America,'' he said.

When gas and diesel prices climbed sharply about two years ago, Richard K. remembered the old formula. After a little tinkering, they perfected it enough to try it in their own cars.

''The original idea was to do it to save fuel costs for ourselves,'' Andrew K. said.

About six months ago, they began selling their knowledge and the additive over the Internet. Andrew K. said they have sold to about 10,000 customers worldwide, as far away as Australia and Singapore. Andrew believes they will eventually reach 100,000 customers, as long as diesel prices stay well above $2 per gallon.

''For people who are willing to get their hands a little bit dirty and willing to do some legwork and set up something in their garage, they can save hundreds and thousands of dollars,'' Andrew K. said.

Brad has encountered a few problems. The fuel becomes thicker in cold weather and his car hesitates, although he said it's never stopped running. He also had to change his car's two fuel filters because of the switch to vegetable oil, but does not expect that to be a recurring problem. His gas mileage has de-creased slightly, he said.

Brad said he looked at other ideas for making alternative fuels. They were more costly or required the use of dangerous chemicals such as methanol, he said.

After a short drive, Brad smiles as he bends over to take of a whiff of the car's exhaust fumes, which smell like a deep fryer.

The fact that his car is 21 years old with 300,000 miles on it offset somewhat the risk he felt like he was taking with the alternative fuel. ''It's not going to be as big a deal as if I was driving a $30,000 car,'' he said.

Still, Brad didn't feel comfortable telling his mechanic until he was already using the fuel. ''He would have probably told me I was crazy,'' he said.


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Copyright (c) 2006 Birmingham News
Record Number: MERLIN_3137263

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