NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Goodness From Used Corn Oil

April 22, 2003

Corn oil, converted into gasohol, has been in use as a fuel and gasoline additive for a number of years. Vegetable oil, even used waste oil, can be used to fuel conventional Diesel engines.

A 1998 National Renewable Energy Laboratory study found that biodiesel -- vegetable oil with methanol and lye added to aid cold-weather flow and remove glycerin -- results in fewer harmful emissions than petroleum-based diesel.

  • Carbon monoxide emissions are reduced by 43 percent, hydrocarbons by 56 percent, particulates by 55 percent and sulfurs, a particular problem with petroleum diesel, are reduced by 100 percent.
  • Typically, biodiesel fuel costs at least as much as regular diesel; but used vegetable oil is essentially free, and unlike biodiesel, does not require methanol and lye.
  • It requires only a fairly simple conversion kit, available from a company called Greasel for $500, that consists of a vegetable oil tank and a fuel heater.

A company called Greasel has now installed hundreds of systems in a variety of diesel vehicles and has sold hundreds more of its units to do-it-yourselfers.

The problem, says Russ Teall, a biodiesel refiner and president of Biodiesel Industries, is that "Basically the cost of virgin vegetable oil is too high, costing from $1.65 to $2 a gallon, compared to wholesale petroleum diesel prices of 60 cents to $1.20 in California.

Joe Jobe, president of the National Biodiesel Board, says there is a worldwide glut of vegetable oil.

"The price of vegetable oils and diesels are beginning to come closer because of the growing demand for soy protein for food," Jobe said. "When you grind up soybeans, you get 80 percent soy meal and 20 percent oil." Furthermore, he said, biodiesel can also be made easily from waste restaurant oil.

Source: Chris Dixon, "Recipe for Car Power: Heat Vegetable Oil, Flip Switch and Go," New York Times, April 22, 2003.


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