Sunday, February 11, 2007

Going Diesel

I bought a car in August. It was a Honda Civic, a basic economy car known for its reliability and its gas mileage. Many of my friends live off the subway lines and many miles from me, my work at WGBH is hard to get to without a car, and every job I seem to be applying for requires that I have my own transportation. So I caved.

Despite my good intentions and rationalizations, it became clear that driving this Honda was gnawing at my soul. The automatic transmission confused me and it's all together possible that the unfamiliar territiry simply made me paranoid, but the mileage just never seemed to be what it should be. I felt like I wasn't even making it to 30 miles per gallon, and slowly I stopped visiting people because I felt guilty.

I would be on edge driving to have dinner in Waltham (only a 10 mile trip from my home) because I figure that's probably almost half a gallon of gasoline that I'm using, and by driving all the time and burning so much gasoline I'm contributing to so many problems including health risks associated with the gasoline exhaust, greenhouse effects, and warped political priorities that have arisen to ensure US appropriation of foreign oil.

So after owning the Honda for less than 6 months, I decided it was time to sell it and buy something that didn't stress out my morals so much. Enter, 1989 VW Jetta. For now, this car will run on diesel which is not much better for the environment, but at least is more efficient. I can get approximately 45-50 miles to the gallon, as opposed to just under 30 with the honda. And as it warms up I can transition to biodiesel and eventually, with the help of these guys, to SVO (straight vegetable oil).

Click here for Quicktime movie (in a new window)

Thanks to Chad for the excellent camerawork, encouragement and company.

For more inspiring videos about running on alternative fuel, check out RyanIsHungry

Runtime is 1:17

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Carl Weaver said...

That's great, Serra! Biodiesel is the way to go if you can get the fuel strained and dewatered somewhere. I would consider that in a hearbeat if I owned property and could process my own fuel. As it is, I would probably get evicted.

I have always loved Diesel vehicles and the idea of sparkless combustion, distributorless ignition, etc. It's so much simpler than gas engines in some ways.

Serra said...

Hey Carl, Thanks for your comment! I just wanted to clear up a couple things.. I'm a 26-yr-old basically unemployed contract worker. I do not own property. You can do this without being a property owner! Especially if you use vegoil. If you're worried about collecting waste oil, you can just run the car on canola oil from costco for about the same price as diesel at the pumps. And the only emission problems you'll be contributing to are those generated by recycling the plastic bottles. So go do it! haha.. well maybe I should do it first before I start telling anyone else what to do... Anyways, thanks for the encouragement!

Carl Weaver said...

That's a great point about "defaulting" to regular vegetable oil, Serra. I think today it is difficult to get clean oil but there are places to get it and the potential for people to form fueling collectives, where you might buy a share of the fuel produced from one person's efforts from collecting, processing and storing it. Or everyone gets together and shares the work and fills up when necessary. Lots of cool stuff possible with this, not to mention that eventually there will be regular commercial fueling stations for this type of thing. Very exciting stuff!

Thanks for your clarification. I understand that after the capital expense of retrofitting your car with a slightly different system, biodiesles are way more cost effective. There was a fellow in the Albany area who ran for State House, I think, who was really into this concept back in the late '90s and everyone thought he was a nut job. Smart stuff!

Serra said...

A nut job like me? ... I mean really, who "upgrades" from a perfectly functional 12-yr-old car to a questionably functional 18-yr-old car? I love it!

Anyways, one more note on fueling: you can filter the used oil on-site and there's no need to have a huge storage place. I learned that recently watching a video with Cynthia Shelton on RyanIsHungry.

It just keeps getting better...

ashe said...

oh damn! What a great leap you're taking! inspiration all around dude, you kick butt!

Dave H. said...

if only everyone's soul were as susceptible to gnawing as yours. way to go!