Biodiesel

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Things I learned while switching to biodiesel (in San Francisco)

More and more people are discovering the benefits of biodiesel. Typically made from soybeans, biodiesel burns cleaner than regular diesel, it’s renewable (no greenhouse gases), non-toxic and biodegradable, it works in regular diesel engines without any modifications, and it can be mixed in the same tank with regular petro-diesel (crucial when you can’t find a biodiesel station).

The easy way to switch to biodiesel

It’s really quite simple: Buy a diesel car model 1995 or newer, find a biodiesel pump near you and you’re done (diesels 1995 or newer require no modifications to run biodiesel).

Car companies are announcing new diesel models for 2008 and beyond: Jeep, Mercedes, VW, Audi, Nissan.

Look for used diesels on Craigslist (in the SF Bay Area): VW Jetta, VW Golf, Jeep Liberty, Mercedes E320, VW Touareg.

Companies who specialize in finding/selling used diesel cars: TDIcars.com.

Places to get biodiesel: San Francisco, Berkeley, or try this map of biodiesel retail pumps in the US.

The slightly harder way…

Buy a pre-1995 diesel car. This saves you money, but you might have to replace the car’s fuel lines with newer rubber ones to prevent them from degrading. It’s a simple job (I did it myself on my Landcruiser in 90 minutes). Popular older diesel cars on Craigslist: Mercedes 240, Mercedes 300.

The car enthusiasts way…

If you are a picky car nut (like me), your choice of diesel vehicles is limited (diesels never sold well in the US, so they are hard to come by today). One option is to buy an imported diesel or import one yourself from Canada or Europe, where they are plentiful. I’ve imported two, a Land Rover from the UK and a Toyota Landcruiser from Canada. I’m now doing all my driving around San Francisco in my Landcruiser using biodiesel. In California it’s easy to import a car that’s older than 25 years because they require no inspection or smog. Newer cars are more tricky and typically require the help of a professional importer.

Some domestic choices:

  • Diesel Land Rovers can occasionally be found here: Rovers North, Reborn Co, Copley Motorcars.
  • Even more rare are diesel Landcruisers, they sometimes show up on the IH8MUD Landcruiser forums.
  • Another potential choice is the Mercedes G-Wagon which was originally sold as a diesel in the late 70s/early 80s: Clubwagen.

Import choices:

  • There are lots of diesel Land Rovers in the UK, check out Land Rover Centre. I purchased one from UKLandRovers (it was in worse shape than they advertised, so I can’t recommend them – looks like they either went out of business or changed their name) and shipped it in through Port Hueneme near Los Angeles (I do recommend SooHoo customs broker to get the car through customs). The car was older than 25 years, so the California DMV import process was easy. Once your car gets here, take it in for a vehicle registration appointment (with the original title and bill of sale), they will do a quick inspection and issue plates (make sure they realize it’s a diesel).
  • I also bought a 1985 Landcruiser from Chevrolake Motors in Vancouver. They were great to deal with. They brought the car to Seattle and titled it for me (since this car was younger than 25 years I did not want to deal with the importing myself). Zander’s biodiesel page got me started with lots of useful info.

PS: Do not confuse biodiesel with vegetable oil. Both run in diesel engines, but vegetable oil requires more serious modifications including a separate fuel tank and fuel delivery system (the benefit of vegetable oil is that you can often pick up free used oil at restaurants).

22 thoughts on “Biodiesel”

  1. Hi there,

    do you know if the passat diesel is convertible?

    i see you have the jetta and toureg listed.

    thanks for your great website,

    maylei

  2. I am running a Toyota Landcruiser Prada 1997

    and recently covered 2500 miles on bio-diesel currently experiencing a turbo problem which I shall inform you of the problem ie rubber hoses, filter or turbo

  3. Holy Moly. Look who I found.

    Funny, my wife is looking for a car exactly like yours so she can run biodiesel. We'll have to talk. Great to connect.

  4. Unka Bob – CO2 is not eliminated. Instead the CO2 released is the same as the amount captured when growing the biodiesel feedstock (soy beans), so the CO2 balance is even. With fossil fuels, CO2 that was captured millions of years ago is released into the atmosphere, creating an imbalance.

    1. "it’s renewable (no greenhouse gases)"

      Not until no fossil fuels are used during production and during transportation of the biodiesel to the point of sale to consumers.. You have to grow the soybeans, which means hand plowing, horse plowing, or plowing by internal combustion. Even if you don't plow or till the fields, you still have to plant and harvest, and if the operation is mechanized, it's probably powered by fossil fuels. Then you have to move the feedstock to the processor. Then you have to move the fuel to the point of sale. And what about fertilizers? Are any derived from petroleum or produced through burning of fossil fuels?

      Granted, it's true that the C in the CO2 emitted during combustion of the hydrocarbons made from soybeans was extracted from the atmosphere during out lifetimes. But a problem, as you noted elsewhere, is that production uses a lot of land and water. There's also the hard economic reality of converting arable land from production for food to production for biodiesel. This will drive up the price of soybeans for human consumption, too, and while you can hide the price increase with governmental subsidies, you can't make the fact of the cost increase disappear by subsidization. But if you do subsidize the growers, thus hiding the cost of food and fuel in tax bills, you still distort the economics of production and consumption of fuels such that fuel consumption will be higher than without the subsidy, a perverse result given that the original motive was to reduce CO2 emissions.

      So, soybean to biodiesel seems harebrained, at best, just like corn to ethanol for internal combustion (which, thanks in part to do-gooding environmentalists, has become a crony capitalism racket.) The algae scheme is intriguing, but is it subsidized? Will it scale well? Will it consume resources otherwise used to grow food, thus driving up the price of food?

      I think it would be far better to treat causes, not symptoms. So, abolish government subsidization of roads and highways, esp. the multilane divided ones with limited access that became popular during Hitler's regime. These subsidies are responsible for the vast growth of fossil fuel consumption, virtually all of it since the rise of national socialism, fascism, and Keynesianism; they've also made a mess of the landscape and undermined the economics of passenger railroads, too. Unfortunately, road and highway construction are favorite makework schemes for the political parties, esp. leftwing and centrist ones, that tend most to support subsidies for green tech.

      So the people who support the green tech craze are the same ones who helped to manufacture the problem for which green tech is now being offered as a solution. But at least the affair is politically exciting and commercially profitable.

  5. Biodiesel fuels have an almost unlimited resources base for production.

    While the creation of biodiesel may have begun with experiments into the use of corn and soybeans, today's technology goes far beyond that. We can use the virgin oils created by all sorts of different plants, many of which we use in our kitchens today.

  6. Remember that there are great variations in the content of Bio-diesel sold at different gas stations. It could be as low as 5 % bio-diesel and 95 % diesel and they still call it bio-diesel.

  7. Very cool, I build biodiesel processors which turn waste vegetable oil into biodiesel. It is really amazing how simple the process is, as well as saving the customer $2-3 per gallon at the pumps. Algae biodiesel looks even more promising. As the other poster said, we just need to keep moving in the right direction.

  8. Unfortunately here is Sydney Australia biodiesel is not available. There is so much available land to grow the required crops that biodiesel makes a lot of sense!

  9. Is biodiesel really a feasible technology. Sure it's carbon neutral for you, but will it scale to support millions of other cars? How much land and water is required to generate enough biomass for one gallon of bio-diesel?

    Very interested to know if this is practical and can scale with having serious issue of other kinds.

    1. The jury is out on this. The biodiesel I use is recycled from restaurants. That works at a local/small level. Biodiesel from crops that requires lots of land or water is not feasible. Emerging methods like biodiesel grown in tanks from algae are more promising. My goal in using biodiesel has been to create awareness and demand so that new, more efficient methods of production have a chance to develop.

  10. I have had a 300D with a secondary veggie oil system installed, the problem is that is hard on the fuel injection system so I rebuilt that and I only use no.2 diesel or biodiesel in it now. I used to live in Japan, after going to Australia I really wanted a diesel Land Cruiser FJ60. Did the dealership in Canada find you the cruiser and then sold/imported it for you? Or did you find one and they have a service. I can work on some things but I've never had one, is there anyone here in SF that works on a Toyota diesel if there is anything I don't want to do myself? I'd love to make surfing trips down to Mexico with a long range tank installed, some OME suspension ect.. My Mercedes is great but its in good shape and I don't want to beat on her! I got the 83 which is the last year they had no computer ect. in them, removed the EGR valve. Anyone with questions about Mercedes diesels can ask me, I know quite a bit about them.

    1. I see your other posts, they title it in Indiana, very interesting. I see they also had the vehicle, maybe they can find me one!

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