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Veggie oil fuels self-reliance

Sunday, February 22, 2009 | 10:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:49 p.m. CST, Sunday, February 22, 2009
Scott Schulte holds up two samples of used cooking oil to compare their quality in the garage of his Columbia home on Friday. The clear one on the right is of good quality. The brown one on the left has been used extensively before being exchanged and contains many impurities and solids. "Some restaurants clearly want to make the most out of their oil," Schulte says with a smile.

 SPRINGFIELD — Charles Anderson gets excited when gas prices go up.

“Last summer was just stupid, it was so busy,” he said with a laugh.

More information

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.


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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.”


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Comments

Ayla Kremen February 23, 2009 | 9:24 p.m.

great story Hannah!

(Report Comment)
N S March 2, 2009 | 2:02 p.m.

reduce, reuse, recycle! it is nice to hear about ways individuals are able to capitalize on ingenuity and lead less wasteful lives. hopefully this spirit of innovation will uncover lasting solutions to our larger environmental and economic dilemmas.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking March 2, 2009 | 2:23 p.m.

These are nice systems if you know what you are doing, but the improper installation and operation of an SVO (straight vegetable oil) fuel system will damage the engine. Particular attention should be paid to the temperature of the oil - if it is too cold it will result in carbon deposits on the injectors and glow plugs. It also has to be meticulously filtered to avoid clogging and wear on the injectors and the injector pump. Modern common-rail or PD designs are more prone to particulate damage than are older designs.

Biodiesel is an actual chemical reformulation of vegetable oil. Vegetable oil is mostly "triglycerides", which are fatty acids attached to glycerol via an ester linkage. To make biodiesel, you mix vegetable oil with a quantity of methanol and lye, which "transesterifies) the fatty acids off of the glycerol into fatty acid methyl esters, which have a much lower gel point than SVO (although not as low as regular diesel).

DK

(Report Comment)
seriousabtgrease August 7, 2009 | 1:55 a.m.

Straight Vegetable Oil systems can work great but Golden Fuel Systems are definitely not the way to go - the company takes a lot of shortcuts, uses customers as their research and development dept, has zero customer service, and their systems are prone to failure. They changed their name from Greasel, probably because Greasel had such a bad reputation. Getting a grease system up and running is hard enough, if you want to try it go with a more reputable company, you won't regret it.

(Report Comment)
lance Coolley October 22, 2009 | 11:25 a.m.

Golden fuel systems is nothing but a heart less corporation. Their products are cheap and overpriced. Up until a year ago there was not even a person answering the phone. You can expect no customer service as soon as your check clears the bank.

(Report Comment)

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