Journey to Bio-Diesel

When contemplating over what type of vehicle I wanted to drive in my sustainability journey, I researched many different options. I was thinking electric car, hybrid, bio-diesel, propane, hydrogen, even water! But most of those options are really expensive to get started. Buying a brand new electric or hybrid vehicle is expensive and the car companies really haven't gone mainstream enough for it to be effective unless you buy a Tesla($100,000), and that's never going to happen. I considered buying a Prius and converting it to a plug-in but that costs like 10 grand extra on the purchase price of the vehicle plus it voids your warranty. I would have liked to gut out an old vehicle and converted it to electric myself but the bank just won't loan you the money for that kind of project. Once battery technology gets better in the future I definitely want to try and convert an old 50s or 60s truck to electric. I think that would be a fun project.

Then I thought about converting my Mazda 6 to run on either propane or hydrogen. The conversion process is not that difficult but when you factor in the costs of these gases they just can't compete with the price of regular gasoline. Although they will produce a clean burning fuel but my pocket book just can't absorb that cost right now. And there was always the hope of running my car on water through some type of hydrolysis or something.  I saw a lot of youtube videos out there about this and that some people got it to work but I don't understand how to make it work even if it somehow does work. So that idea is also out the window.

Since I new I was going to be moving out to a farm I really needed a work truck to haul things like hay, lumber, livestock, etc., around in. So I made the decision in my head that I had to have a truck. And what's the most efficient way to run a big truck with as little money as possible and with the smallest impact on the environment?  You guessed it! Bio-diesel!  So I started my quest for a diesel truck. I searched for probably 5 or 6 months before I finally found 'the one,' but it was harder than I thought to get a loan for a used truck. Every lender I spoke to would not give me a loan for a vehicle older than the year 2000. But in my research I had come across many forums that said that diesel trucks built between '96-'99 were perfect for converting to run on straight or waste vegetable oil or bio-diesel. Especially the Dodge Cummins engines were supposed to be some of the best engines for this. And  most of the vehicles newer than the year 2000 could not handle the filtered vegetable oil.  It would clog up the injectors or water would mess the engine up if it was not completely filtered correctly before being put into the fuel tank.

So I was in a conundrum. What can I do if I can't convert the truck to run on waste vegetable oil?! Don't convert the truck--convert the fuel! So off into another tangent I dove into the world of producing bio-diesel.  Many people across the world are getting free oil from restaurants and processing it with ethanol and lye to make their own diesel fuel in their homemade gas stations. The thought of having my own gas station at my house was a great thought and I had to go for it!

2006 Ford F250 Powerstroke V8
Most of the forums I was reading there were many people who process bio-diesel in newer trucks. I was just warned that filtering was the key if you didn't want to destroy your engine. It took awhile to search for a decent truck that was in my budget that I thought could work for me but I finally found it! A 2006 Ford F250 Powerstroke V8!! It was in my price range and the bank would give me a loan so I traded in the four door Mazda 6 and got my truck! It was a glorious few weeks after that. I was hauling stuff in the bed that I never would have been able to do in my car. It was great...until the check engine light came on! Noooo!!

I went to Autozone to get a free computer diagnostic test done to find out it was the EGR valve. So I started researching to find out if anybody else with my truck had similar problems. And the answer is YES! Every single Ford F250 between 2002-2008 had this problem and it was a huge problem. There are literally hundreds of websites devoted to this truck because it has so many problems. At first I really didn't understand how I could fix the problem and I read that it could cost a thousand dollars or more for someone else to fix it. So I researched and researched for months trying to figure out how to fix it myself hoping the truck would stay alive long enough for me to figure this thing out. Well, you know what happened...the truck died on me. But it turns out it wasn't the egr system it was the fuel pump. Apparently whoever owned the truck before me never drained the water out of the plug in the fuel pump that accumulates every so often. So it fried the sensor telling you there is water in the fuel and fried the pump. So about $750 later I was driving again. But a few weeks later the battery died. That's not such a big deal just frustrating. I didn't know if I would make it to work from day to day. But things were going pretty good but that stupid check engine light kept coming on telling me the egr system was malfunctioning.
New fuel pump. This is where the plug is to drain water out.

I would take the egr valve out and clean it with carb cleaner and put it back in and the check engine light would turn off for awhile but after a week or two it would come back on again. I did this for a month or two still researching how to fix this. I then came across the egr delete system. This was supposedly the only way to permanently fix the problem with these trucks. There are companies out there devoted to selling you these egr delete kits. They cost anywhere between $120-$300, which doesn't sound like much but I was still low on funds so I kept researching. I found out what the kit did was block off the exhaust flow into the egr cooler. So there were some youtube videos out there explaining that all you had to do to fix this was to take out the egr cooler and weld shut the openings of the egr cooler and reinstall. Sounds easy right? Wrong!!
Top of the engine. All of what you see and can't see here had to come off!
This was the hardest automotive repair project I had ever undertaken, but I had a friend with a shop and tons of tools and he said he would weld it shut for me.

EGR Cooler. The two openings on the ends is what you weld shut with freeze plugs.
I had to remove the air intake, battery, alternator, oil and fuel filter, injector wires, turbocharger, exhaust tubes and hoses, and the intake manifold, all before I could reach the egr cooler. Sounds like a short list of things to remove but I assure you it took two days to get to the egr cooler! TWO DAYS!! The welding of the cooler was actually one of the easiest things we did. Within a half hour it was completed and ready to be reinstalled. And two days later with many complications I got the pieces back together and running again. After a few tweeks here and there I got it, I really actually just did this!! I couldn't believe it myself. It might have cost me four days of my life but that was better than spending over a grand for someone else to do it. I think I spent maybe $8 on the freeze plugs that were welded into the egr cooler. You do the math!
Steel freeze plugs

So after that long story of how I got the truck,which was an essential part to the story I can now get to the bio-diesel processor! I have to mention that if you are reading this far into my bio-diesel story then you are pretty interested in getting started in bio-diesel. Therefore, you must know all of the factors in making your decision in purchasing your vehicle. It takes a lot of time and research to get it right so don't make a mistake and buy something on a whim. Make a long thoughtful, calculated decision on the type of truck that is right for you before you go out and buy something that is this big of an undertaking.

The Green Machine!--Bio-diesel processor.

WVO Pump and filter kit. Bought it from the Organic Mechanic.
I bought my processor from a guy on craigslist. If you buy one new it can cost you thousands of dollars. Even if you buy a diy kit it can still set you back. The guy I bught it from called it 'The green machine!' It is a homemade processor made from an old water heater, some steel 55-gallon drums, oil pumps, timers, and electrical components. The whole thing cost me a thousand which is a good deal considering how much the new ones cost. Plus he gave me a bunch of extra stuff like an extra oil pump, stand, digital scale for the lye, extra hoses, methanol buckets, and even rubber gloves. All things I would have needed eventually. I have slowly been scratching off my list of what I need and so far I have bought some lye and the wvo fuel pump and filters(above pic right). I have also built a shed to enclose the processor. I still need to buy a 55-gallon drum of methanol, fix a pipe off one of the wash tanks, and I probably need a centrifuge to filter all of the water out of the processed fuel. I also have to be able to discard of or use the byproduct of this process. Glycerin can be used to make soap or you can neutralize it and retrieve the methanol from it and dispose of it properly. But I have decided to wait until I move out to the farm in my tiny house to start producing fuel. I need to be able to save up enough money for the centrifuge and the only way I can do that is after I finish my tiny house project and move out there. And even after I move out there there are other projects that will take top priority over bio-diesel like setting up my solar power system or digging a well so I can have water. And all of that will be discussed in the other pages of this blog in the future. So it might be awhile before I will post on my bio-diesel journey but I will eventually. Wish me luck it's going to be a long journey!

1 comment:

  1. This is great, I relate to your approach completely! I have similar plans: convert a Eurovan to diesel, then build a 40's/50's pickup as electric... and maybe add a range-extender motor.