SPRINGFIELD — Charles Anderson gets excited when gas prices go up.
“Last summer was just stupid, it was so busy,” he said with a laugh.
To find out more about the Golden Fuel Systems, go to http://goldenfuelsystems.com.
To find out more about buying vegetable oil in Columbia, contact Scott Schulte of Show-Me BioFuels at 573-268-5517 or SMBFcol@aol.com.
Anderson, 36, is the hands-on president of Golden Fuel Systems, a Springfield company that converts diesel engines to run on straight vegetable oil. The company has experienced "ridiculous growth every single year" since its founding in 2001.
Last year, the company's sales grew 300 percent. There are four active dealers outside of Springfield in the U.S. and one in Japan. While fuel prices soared over the summer, Anderson said appointments to do conversions were booked two to three months in advance.
In some ways, Anderson's interest in alternative fuels began in Alaska, where he grew up and developed a proclivity for self-reliance, a trait that exhibits itself even in his home life: He home-schools his four children. His grandfathers taught him that self-reliance protects a person from forces that can't be controlled — like the price and supply of fuel.
With no college degree, the self-taught mechanic studied the use of vegetable oil in diesel engines and successfully converted the diesel engine in his own truck. But the inspiration for how to mass-produce a conversion kit did not come until 2001, when Anderson walked into Bass Pro Shops and laid eyes on a certain polyethylene tank. He realized he could take a product off the shelf, retrofit it and mass produce it for engine conversions. With that realization, he founded Greasel, which he renamed Golden Fuel Systems four years later.
The vegetable oil used in his conversion kits is different from ethanol and biodiesel. Ethanol is an alcohol and biodiesel uses chemicals to decrease vegetable oil’s viscosity.
Like other vegetable oil fuel enthusiasts, Anderson doesn't have much nice to say about ethanol or biodiesel, fuels he considers inefficient and chemical-dependent. But Missouri law lags behind Anderson's enthusiasm. The state has not made laws governing the use of vegetable oil as a fuel, and the Environmental Protection Agency's regulations are unclear. In the February 2006 Updated Certification Guidance for Alternative Fuel Converters, the EPA cites inquiries about converting diesel engines to run on vegetable oil, but does not set out rules for its use. Vegetable oil is included in a list, updated in January 2009, of EPA-registered gasoline and diesel additives.
From Anderson's point of view, the beauty of vegetable oil is that it's widely available from restaurants that use a lot of oil and a form of recycling. "You'll be shocked at how eager the restaurant owners will be to get rid of it," Anderson said, because its removal and disposal by a rendering company can cost them money.
And yes, it's true: The car exhaust will carry a faint smell of French fries, won tons or whatever was cooked in the oil. However, as Anderson pointed out, “Not all oil is created equal.” Depending on what was cooked in it and how long it was used, the oil may take extensive filtering before it becomes the ideal transparent oil needed to run a vehicle.
Greasing the wheels
Sixty-six-year-old Scott Schulte, the retired superintendent of Rock Bridge Memorial State Park, bought his fuel system from Anderson in the summer of 2007 after researching vegetable oil-run cars on the Internet and watching the DVDs Anderson created to sell his products.
Schulte now has a truck that uses the Golden Fuel Systems' configuration year-round. He also tries to profit from the extensive filtering process he created: “I collect more oil than I use myself, so I sell it to other people who use it.”
He said he sells his filtered vegetable oil to three or four people in Columbia, people from St. Louis and people with vegetable oil-run vehicles traveling through the area. The Web site Fillup4free.com allows people to find vegetable oil vendors around the country.
When the price of diesel goes over $3 a gallon, Schulte sells the vegetable oil he collects for about half the cost of diesel. The Energy Information Administration says diesel prices have gone up because of increasing demand and a change in diesel fuel production.
But Schulte notes that with fuel prices down at the moment, he's having more trouble selling the vegetable oil he buys from restaurants and then filters. Anderson also admits business is slower because of low fuel prices and the winter weather, though he remains optimistic.
“People still need to save money, and we offer that,” he said.
He said if he had to buy fuel now, even with the low prices, he and his family “couldn’t be doing what we’re doing now,” such as driving his daughters to violin lessons.
Running an engine on vegetable oil may save money and preserve lifestyles in the long run, but there is an initial investment. The fuel systems designed for diesel pickup trucks costs $2,995 plus $1,500 if installed by Golden Fuel Systems. Fuel systems for diesel cars cost $2,000 plus installation.
While Schulte said his investment has not yet paid for itself, he said on his last trip to Florida, his fuel cost was down to around 8 cents per mile. At today’s diesel prices, the fuel cost for the same trip would be about 15 cents per mile running on pure diesel — almost double the total cost of the trip, he said.
He added that blending 10 percent diesel with filtered vegetable oil achieves about the same fuel economy as pure diesel.
Neither Anderson nor Schulte claim vegetable oil-run vehicles are going to save the world. “This isn’t the solution for the planet, because there is only a finite amount of the recycled vegetable oil out there,” Schulte said. Still, “every little bit helps.”