Biodiesel Saves Money and Environment

VW Beetle powered by biodiesel.

If you want to drive more sustainably you’re probably thinking hybrid, right? Think again.

Biodiesels give a big bang to your green buck, when compared to the hybrids now on the market. Just compare today’s price of regular gas to that of waste vegetable oil, which is nearly free.

Should you choose to go the biodiesel route running on pure vegetable oil, here are some basics to get you on your way to a fossil fuel-free lifestyle.

Benefits to Biodiesel

The benefits to Biodiesel, according to the Department of Energy’s renewable energy office;

  • Inexpensive to run
  • Nontoxic and biodegradable
  • Reduces dependence on foreign oil
  • Cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions
  • Oxygenated fuel (burns more completely than other fossil-based products)

If you are still on board with converting to a biodiesel/SVO lifestyle then you’ll want to follow these 5 steps;

Step 1 – Diesel vs. Biodiesel vs. Vegetable Oil

The term ‘biodiesel’ refers to a mix of two fuels; commercially produced petrodiesel and biodiesel. The combination is referred to as the “B factor”, which is used to denote the percentage of biodiesel contained within a petrol/bio mix. For example, biodiesel rated “B5,” “B20,” or “B100” contains 5 percent, 20 percent, and 100 percent biodiesel respectively. While many diesel cars and trucks can run on any blend of biodiesel, these percentages are important because some newer diesel engines have problems running on pure biodiesel (B100) for extended periods of time.

Used vegetable oil from french fryer is cleaner source of WVO.

A lot of people are running diesels on straight vegetable oil (SVO) right now, today, with no problems. In fact, as fuel prices rise, many people have been buying bulk veggie oil right off the shelves, for about a third less than diesel fuel cost at the pumps.

Tip: look for used fry oil from french fries.
It tends to be cleaner and easier to filter than other types.

Waste Vegetable Oil (WVO) is just that, vegetable oil that has been used and is on its way to the waste stream. Your local restaurant is a good source for acquiring WVO. One suggestion is to create arrangements with a few businesses in your area to secure a rotating supply. Don’t panic if you can’t secure a solid source right off though. Unless you want to run on pure SVO, you can still use petrodiesel or even biodiesel in the meantime.

Step 2: Get a Diesel Car

The first challenge on your path will be finding the car you want to convert.  Diesel vehicles fell out of vogue for automakers during the 90’s despite their potential for higher efficiency than petroleum-based combustion engines. Finding a newer used car may take you some time and effort, if you want to go the conversion kit route. The good news is that major automakers are beginning to add diesel models to their offerings.

Waste Vegetable Oil Sanitary Filtration System

Biodiesel conversions kits are not necessary unless you are situated in a place with extreme cold weather or your car is a pre-1994 model.

If you fall into one of these two categories, like any other large purchase, it’s advisable to hit up online biodiesel communities before rushing out to make a purchase. You will want to shop around and talk to existing owners of converted cars. This is crucial for two reasons: First, prices for equipment and labor can vary greatly. Second, it’s likely there’s a specific kit that works best with the make and model car you’ve chosen.

I highly recommend that you connect with your local biodiesel community for this step. Good sources for conversion kit info can be found at and

Step 4: Choose Your Install Method

You can perform the conversion yourself if you’re the mechanically inclined type.

In this case you’ll basically be modifying your car with three components;

  1. SVO Fuel Tank – a separate tank to hold your veggie oil;
  2. Hose/Seal Overhaul – older cars are notorious for breaking down after prolonged exposure to heated SVO;
  3. Fuel System and Heating System – SVO must be preheated before pumping it into the fuel system

If you want to hire a mechanic then you’ll will want to refer to your local biodiesel community for recommendations.

Step 5: Filter The Used SVO and Fill the Tank

Simple waste vegetable oil filtering system

With a WVO supply and a converted vehicle, you just need to purify your vegetable oil before filling the tank. The simplest of the many filtration methods is to heat the oil in a large metal container and then pour it through a series of cheap household filters. The ultimate goal is to remove any visible leftover food particles and debris before fueling your tank.

For more information on conversion kits and running a SVO biodiesel vehicle see:

Enjoy your new fossil fuel free lifestyle!


Is $4 Per Gallon Gas Here To Stay?

One link swept past my Twitter account recently, “What High Gas Prices Mean for Renewable Energy“. After reading, I got to thinking about why this latest spike in gasoline prices at the pump feels different.

As Christopher Steiner states in his book, $20 Per Gallon: How the Inevitable Rise in the Price of Gasoline Will Change Our Lives for the Better, we, as a society will adapt to this inevitable rise in the price of gas with modifications in our behavior and technological innovations. It won’t be all doom and gloom as some predict. Mostly, the change will benefit us in the long run.

So, what is different this time around? Have we adapted to the recent spikes in gas prices or are we changing our belief system of our vision for an oil-dependent world?

Some adapt by buying a hybrid, like a Prius, to take the sting out of higher prices at the pump. Recently, in Mill Valley, California I saw a staggering 5 Priuses (Prii?) converging into one intersection!

For most of the population, buying a new, high-priced hybrid is out of reach. Americans are keeping their old cars running longer and holding off on new car purchases. This trend puts downward pressure on gas efficiency in the aggregate as older cars stay on the roads longer.

American’s Adapt By Driving Less – A Lot Less

The result of multiple factors such as the slow economy, unemployment and increased telecommuting mean that we are driving far less than anyone had predicted.

In January, 2011, according to statistics compiled by the Federal Highway Administration, Americans drove a collective 222 billion miles or 727 miles traveled for every man, woman, and child in the country. But, in 2008, Americans averaged 757 miles per person.

We are seeing a steady decline in how much people are driving. January 2009 marked the fifteenth consecutive month in which the average American drove less than they had a year earlier.

Much of this trend in lower miles driven is due to the recession, lowered economic activity and high unemployment. But, the question of whether this trend will continue when the economy recovers still remains.

Will This Trend Continue?

There’s reason to believe that the average American will continue to drive less than they have historically (Paul Volcker, among others, endorses this idea.)

Have we adapted our lifestyle initially to save money, only to realize that we are happier spending less time in our cars? There could be many reasons contributing to our decreased time behind the wheel including more people telecommuting for one.

Whatever the reasons, the net effect points to our ability to adapt our lifestyles to meet changing societal conditions. This ability bodes well for us as the price of oil is sure to rise (as predicted by Steiner, et al).

Ways To Decrease Gas Usage and Save Money

  • Check your tire air pressure weekly and keep at recommended levels
  • Plan your errands before you leave the house. Combine together and make a loop for efficiency
  • Drive more efficiently by employing Hypermiling techniques, i.e. avoid fast breaking and accelerating
  • Turn off air conditioning when possible
  • Reduce weight by taking unnecessary items out of your car
  • Leave early – this gives you more time so you can drive slower and more efficiently
  • Begin carpooling or join a ride-share
  • Bike instead of drive to get where you’re going

This is only a short list of ways to save on your gas bill. Buying a more fuel efficient automobile is obviously a great idea if you have the funds. Some people make life changing decisions like moving closer to their work or vice versa.

If the average miles driven per person/per week is 240, at $4.00 per gallon, getting 30 miles to the gallon, the average amount spent on gas would be $96/month. If you have more than one driver in your household, get worse gas mileage or drive more than the average, your bill could be much higher. Now imagine gas at $6, $8 or even $12 a gallon! Think of how your driving habits might shift or change completely.

Gas prices are thought by many experts to be going higher in the near future. Based on my findings, I agree. Employing these tips can save you significant cash over the course of the year, while improving the environment.

Bicycles Make Sustainable Sense

From the early part of the 19th Century, people have made peddling as a means to getting around, a national pastime. And it’s easy to see why.

What makes bicycles so wildly popular, besides how fun they are to ride, is their phenomenal efficiency both in biological and mechanical terms. The bicycle is the most efficient self-powered means of transportation in terms of energy a person must expend to travel a given distance. From a mechanical viewpoint, up to 99% of the energy delivered by the rider into the pedals is transmitted to the wheels and is also an efficient means of cargo transportation.

Not only that but, the carbon dioxide generated in the production and transportation of the food required by the bicyclist, per mile traveled, is less than 1/10 that generated by energy efficient cars.

Bicycles now number about one billion worldwide, twice as many as automobiles.

So, why do our U.S. cities still favor cars over bikes? The short answer is – we are addicted to our cars.

In a country famous for its love of cars and driving, less than 1% of personal trips are by bike compared with up to 30% in some parts of Europe.

And cars driven in America’s cities account for the majority of pollution and energy usage related to transportation. According to the IEA, cities currently occupy just 2 % of the world’s surface but account for half the global population, two-thirds of energy use and 76 % of energy-related CO2 output.

The environmental impact of cities stems both from their concentration of human activity but also their reliance on outside regions to meet their demand for energy and resources, and to accommodate their waste output.

Now, here’s the good news. In the transportation sector, denser cohabitation means shorter journeys to work and amenities, encouraging walking and cycling. Let’s look at the benefits to more bikes and less cars on our roads.

Benefits to Choosing Bikes Over Cars

  • Improve the environment by reducing the impact on residents of pollution and noise, limiting greenhouse gases, and improving the quality of public spaces.
  • Reduce congestion by shifting short trips (the majority of trips in cities) out of cars. This will also make cities more accessible for public transportation, walking, essential car travel, emergency services, and deliveries.
  • Save lives by creating safer conditions for bicyclists and as a direct consequence improve the safety of all other road users. Research shows that increasing the number of bicyclists on the street improves bicycle safety.
  • Increase opportunities for residents of all ages to participate socially and economically in the community, regardless income or ability. Greater choice of travel modes also increases independence, especially among seniors and children.
  • Boost the economy by creating a community that is an attractive destination for new residents, tourists and businesses.
  • Enhance recreational opportunities, especially for children, and further contribute to the quality of life in the community.
  • Save city funds by increasing the efficient use of public space, reducing the need for costly new road infrastructure, preventing crashes, improving the health of the community, and increasing the use of public transportation.
  • Enhance public safety and security by increasing the number of “eyes on the street” and providing more options for movement in the event of emergencies, natural disasters, and major public events.
  • Improve the health and well being of the population by promoting routine physical activity.

Rates of bike use in some U.S. cities are significantly higher thanks to recognition by urban planners of the environmental, economic and health benefits.

In Portland for example, 5.4% of people said in a 2006 survey that the bicycle was their primary means of getting to work.

“In the last three years, we reached another acceleration point,” said Scott Bricker, executive director of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, an advocacy group. “Ridership is increasing exponentially.”

Historically, bicycles reduced crowding in inner-city tenements by allowing workers to commute from more spacious dwellings in the suburbs. They also reduced dependence on horses. Bicycles allowed people to travel for leisure into the country, since bicycles were three times as energy efficient as walking and three to four times as fast.

What Cities Are Doing To Promote Bicycle Use

Recently, several European cities and Montreal have implemented successful schemes known as community bicycle programs or bike-sharing. These initiatives complement a city’s public transportation system and offer an alternative to motorized traffic to help reduce congestion and pollution. In Europe, especially in The Netherlands and parts of Germany and Denmark, commuting by bicycle is very common. In the Danish capital of Copenhagen, a cyclists’ organization runs a Cycling Embassy, that promotes biking for commuting and sightseeing. In the UK there’s a tax break scheme that allows employees to buy a new bicycle tax free to use for commuting.

Portland, Chicago and Washington Take The Lead

The relative popularity of bicycling in Portland may be linked to bike lanes, locking facilities and programs that encourage public bicycling and safety education for children.

Portland has 171 miles of bike lanes along its 2,568 miles of roadways and plans to increase that to 434 miles. Portland has 71 miles of bike trails and a third of its arterial roads have bike lanes or paved shoulders.This network includes 114 miles of “bicycle boulevards” — quiet streets where bikes have priority over cars and where traffic speed is restricted.

In Chicago, pro-bike policies have resulted in 115 miles of bike lanes, more than 11,000 bike racks and 50 miles of dedicated bike paths along Lake Michigan.

Around 1.5 % of personal trips in Chicago are made by bike and the city aims to boost that to 5 % by 2015.

Graph showing Daily Trip Distances

In Washington, the proportion of people biking to work rose from 1.2 percent in 2000 to an estimated 2 percent in 2006, said Jim Sebastian, who heads the U.S. capital’s bicycle and pedestrian program.

Bike lanes in Washington now stretch to 33 miles — 11 times longer than in 2001 — and more than half of the city’s subway stops now have bike racks.

Later this summer, Washington plans to launch the first U.S. bike-sharing program in which users will pay $40 a year for a swipe card enabling them to pick up a bike from racks around the city and then return them to any other rack.

In cities where the bicycle is not an integral part of the planned transportation system, commuters often use bicycles as elements of a mixed-mode commute, where the bike is used to travel to and from train stations or other forms of rapid transit. Folding bicycles are useful in these scenarios, as they are less cumbersome when carried aboard. Los Angeles removed a small amount of seating on some trains to make more room for bicycles and wheel chairs.

Bicycles offer an important mode of transportation in many developing countries. Until recently, bicycles have been a staple of everyday life throughout Asian countries. They are the most frequently used method of transportation for commuting to work, school, shopping, and life in general.

Biking More Reduces Our Dependence Upon Foreign Oil

One of the profound economic implications of bicycle use is that it liberates the user from oil consumption (Ballantine, 1972). The bicycle is an inexpensive, fast, healthy and environmentally friendly mode of transportation (Illich, 1974).

Now, more than ever, we need to be peddling more and driving less. The price at the pump is one great motivator. Statistically, about 40 percent of all trips are shorter than two miles-a 30-minute walk or a 10-minute bike ride (1995 NPTS). So why choose the car when the bike will be more fun and improve your health?

Imagine that gasoline costs $5, $6, even $10 per gallon. How will you get to work, school, the grocery store? Chances are that you’ll modify your commute patterns when it costs you $40 in gas just to get to work and back. These days are not far off and bicycling gives us an inexpensive, highly efficient means of transportation that is truly sustainable.

How to Save Money and Live a More Sustainable Lifestyle

Energy Conservation and Efficiency in the Home

The reality is, that we aren’t always as energy conscious as we would like. We leave our cars running, don’t shut down our computers at night and sometimes forget to turn the lights off when we leave a room.

The first step on the path to being more sustainable is admitting this universal fact; we can all improve our energy efficiency. The suggestions listed below will cost you very little or nothing at all to implement. If you want to go further and attain dramatic energy reductions, the basic rule is that for every $1 you spend on making your home more energy efficient, you’ll save $3 to $5 on the cost of the renewable energy system.

Many people are not aware how wasteful their energy habits are. They are willing to pay large electric bills, without question, and do not even consider that reducing their energy usage will result in lower utility bills.

In this case, knowledge is power. Enter the Energy Calculators and Carbon Footprint Calculators, free for all to use. They have been created by industries and utility companies to help consumers realize where most of their energy is used and help to identify areas in which they can reduce their usage while saving on their bill.

To many this may seem like an ominous task. However, the process only takes minutes to evaluate, resulting in saving you money and enhancing our environment for future generations. This is a simple step you can take to creating a more sustainable lifestyle.

Consider that in the past 30 years, residential energy consumption from appliances and electronics in the US has approximately doubled, from 17% to 31%. This increase has essentially offset the gains from energy efficient appliances made possible through programs such as Energy Star. Efforts have been made by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) to educate citizens of where our energy is used; transportation, commercial, residential, and industrial sectors are the main sectors.

Over the past 25 years, energy use in residential dwellings has grown.  The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) has on their website a list of ways homeowners can improve their home’s efficiency – items ranging from HVAC system replacement to purchasing of low energy usage electronics and appliances, lighting, and refrigeration.

For example, per ACEEE, water heating consumes 12% of residential energy.  To offset this, options such as solar hot water systems, recirculation pumps, geothermal, and gas and electric tank less systems exist.   Buyers are often directed to purchase items with the Energy Star logo on them – but what does that mean? Energy Star is a result of a cumulative effort between the US Department of Energy and the US Environmental Protection Agency in 1992, and aims to inform consumers of how purchasing these rated items that will reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emission and will ultimately reduce their energy usage and save them money in the long run. Energy efficient programs such as this are essential and allow us to accomplish the same tasks while using less energy.  Residential energy conservation will soon become a normal aspect of cost savings and will support a sustainable lifestyle.

“How can I reduce my home energy consumption without making drastic changes to my lifestyle?”

Begin by evaluating your energy usage by using an energy calculator and carbon footprint calculator.  Then, start to identify areas you can begin to conserve energy.

By exercising these suggested action items, you can lower the cost of your monthly utility bill and help protect the environment, right from your own home.

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