Winter Attempt at Fossil-Fuel Free Roadtrip #4

10 01 2008

For our 2nd “big” trip, we decided to take a holiday journey to Ft. Collins, CO, then Salt Lake City, UT to visit some of Laura’s famly. I scoured discussion forums and talked to whoever I could find that had insight on how to properly handle WVO and B100 in the winter. Of course, I received a plethora of possible solutions, but the default answer was always to mix in at least 50% petrol diesel to prevent gelling. There are various anti-gel solutions for biodiesel which seem to work well in most cases, but I opted to attempt a mechanical solution. I winterized the biodiesel system with a 110V fuel filter heater and a magnetic block heater in line with a timer – my plan was to heat everything up for an hour or so before trying to start on B99 in freezing temps. I plumbed up our Portable Filtration System to filter WVO on the fly using a Fill-Rite 1604 12V pump to push the oil through spun 20 micron then 5 micron home water type filters. I had also figured out an issue that might be missed with diesel conversions – I noticed that I has having a harder time starting this winter using B100. I thought it might by my fuel gelling, it was getting down to 35-40 degrees at night. However, it turned out to be the result of me not changing the battery after the gasoline to diesel conversion. It seems that starter batteries don’t work as well in the cold and have 2 Amperage ratings (the “oomph” that the battery can put out to start the car), a regular rating, and a cold cranking amps rating. The diesel engine needed 600 or more CCA (cold cranking amps) and this battery only had around 500 CCA. Luckily and surprisingly, they had the proper battery at Costco (and we could recycle the old one) and after a mediocre installation job (I didn’t have my tools with me, this will come up again later in the narrative), the Vegfalia fired right up! The next morning when I cold started the engine, it was obvious that this had been the problem. We also chose this trip as an excuse for GoWesty to install the manual 4WD decoupler, the straight shaft (taking out the viscous coupling), new Old Man Emu shocks, new Michelin Hydroedge M/S tires, a last minute steel coolant pipe upgrade (they found a small crack in the plastic one), and a last minute rear brake job (the e-brake lever snapped off 2 days before leaving). Ahhh, to have a 20 year old vehicle with 300K miles on the frame using an quasi-experimental fuel system heading into unpredictable weather.

So, after all of the preparation we headed out with 2 full tanks, an extra 30 gallons of filtered oil, and our filtration system to get used oil from restaurants. I had also made a list of local biodiesel retailers and those with filtered VO using Fillup4Free and the Mapquest alt fuel map. Our first problem was the new VO filter that I installed one week prior, clogged after about 300 miles. We ended up using our homebrew biodiesel and had to buy 6 gallons of straight petrol to make it to SLC. After a brief nap, we were able to fill up with B20 at Dal Soglio’s B20 pump, their # is 801-255-9221. Cardwell Distributing’s B100/B50 pumps are the only other retail ones we found, but were gelled up and not functioning at all. It seems that they mix the fuel at the pump, and don’t have a filter heater or line heater to winterize it, so once the B100 side gelled, the filter clogged and you can’t pump a thing. A similar thing happened to our portable filtration system, the 12V Fill-Rite pump could pull the thicker oil through the filters.

In troubleshooting the problem with our filter clogging, it may have been because I had used still-hot used oil filtered through my still-being-tested portable filtering system; if so, it is either due to suspended water in the oil, larger particles making it through the filters while hot. The fuel temp was reaching 150 and higher, but I had the vegtherm in-line after the VO filter, before the fuel pump, so the temperature could be dropping low in the filter itself, causing potential clogging as well. We ran B20 to Ft. Collins, needing to use 5 more gallons of petrol on the way, since there were no stations in the interim, and we hadn’t had a chance to find any filters to get the VO system up again (I had forgotten to order more filters before we left – drat!!!).

We had a great time in Ft. Collins (See the New Belgium Brewing Company tour review), changed the VO filter (and got 5 extra), and I tried to use our roadside filter to re-filter the oil that was left in the VO tank when it had clogged the last filter. It had a hard time filtering even VO mixed with B20 at 20 degrees, but got through it. At this point, we had no VO filter for used oil, but we were able to find a B20 pump in town and filled both tanks and a few extras to make it back to SLC. As we drove across I-80 in Wyoming, we were barraged with 60mph winds, spindrift snow blowing across the road and subzero temperatures. We were able to navigate the gale-force gusts in our anti-aerodynamic rolling toaster/breadbox/boxcar/etc, but around 9pm the headlights started to go dim. Then we started losing power. Then the car stalled as I pulled it to the side of the road in against the unrelenting wind. Crap. After a little cursing and fiddling with the ignition and switches, the dread in the pit of my stomach passed quickly as my frantically troubleshooting brain recalled the shoddy installation job I had done with the battery. I dove into the tool tote and after tightening the battery leads, the Vegfalia was once again purring like a kitten. Lesson learned – if you don’t want to have to start looking for new shorts after breaking down in the middle of some of the worst weather imaginable, don’t half-ass your repairs. So, lessons thus far: Do it right the first time, always bring extra filters, and that oil doesn’t like cold weather and now I’ll have to figure out a way to heat my portable filtering system. Once we made it to Salt Lake we had a few days visiting with Laura’s dad and stepfamily, we went snowshoeing (and introduced our dog, Marley, to the snow), ate holiday breads, and made it up for a day of skiing/boarding at Solitude. The Syncro drove like a champ in the deep snow up Mill Creek ravine where we hiked and we never had an issue starting on the B20, even without using the block and filter heaters. Before heading home, we hit up Costco for a little $4.25/gallon virgin soy oil and filled up both tanks with B20 at Dal Soglio’s. We made one more Costco run in Vegas for some more expensive new oil and made it home. Although I know that using VVO is suboptimal and is wasteful of a food product, it still has less carbon emissions than petrol, I’m trying to choose the least harmful fuel from the options available in a geographic region.

This is a huge argument for regionalizing fuel and consolidation of waste streams. Each community should have community-run biodiesel and ethanol plants that collect used oil from restaurants in the area for biodiesel and use local agricultural and green waste for cellulosic ethanol. It could be powered by methane from the local landfill, fuel produced can be used in local governmental vehicles and some could be sold to local citizens for a reduced price, with any proceeds going back into the county’s alternative energy program. San Luis Obispo county is the perfect region for this type of community choice energy production. Owned by the people, sustainable, it pays for itself many times over (especially once oil is above $200/barrel), and is a responsible way to provide local jobs and a reliable future fuel source.

All in all, it went well, we had a great time, and learned a bit about using VO in the cold. Onward to ironing out the bugs and planning the next Fossil-Fuel Free roadtrip!

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2 responses

1 07 2008
Dave

Hey, nice job persevering through the cold. I live in Vermont and am starting a project to convert an 82 diesel Vanagon. VT winters are especially harsh! thanks for the inspiration!

13 01 2009
WVO Centrifuge

Nice post!! bookmarked the site.. really helpful.

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