September 18, 2009
Story and Photo by Ken Krayeske • 9:45 PM EST
It's not the clearest image - off a cell phone, no less - but this is a veggie oil Yale Shuttle bus - on the side it says "Biodiesel Powered." Yale's website has a better pic.
I hate cars. But cars are a fact of life in Connecticut. This should not be. But it is.
I moved to Hartford in 1998 so I could bicycle to work, and for years, I kept a calendar tracking car free days.
But now, I have a job requiring a 40-mile round trip commute. To find some peace within this tyranny of travel, after I wrecked my 1993 Honda Civic in October 2006 (working a different car-dependent job), I bought a diesel VW Jetta with the goal of using biodiesel to kick my addiction to foreign oil.
When Karl Benz invented the diesel engine, he envisioned a flexible fuel engine that could run on veggie oil, diesel or biodiesel. Biodiesel makes your car run cleaner (less frequent oil changes, etc) and you emit 70 percent less carbon.
The best part of this non-fossil fuel is that ordinary people can mix biodiesel in their garages with methanol, lye and used vegetable oil from restaurants. I hoped that a diesel car could help me attain fuel self-sufficiency.
While running with biodiesel doesn't eliminate traffic, or any government policies that slant the transportation system towards the automobile, the wealthy and the suburbs, biodiesel would make me feel better about not relying on war to get around.
Making a gallon of biodiesel costs about two dollars - a dollar for materials (equipment, methanol and lye) and a dollar for the labor. Building relationships with restaurants, collecting the veggie oil, filtering it, mixing it, cleaning up after the chemical reaction, and pumping it into your car all take time, which is money. This is all still cheaper than ExxonMobil’s sulfur-free diesel, which still spews mercury and Sox and Nox into the atmosphere.
Other biodieselers seem to handle the mixing and using of biodiesel without a problem. It seemed so simple at first that I dreamed of a bio cooperative where diesel drivers pool resources to insure a stable flow of clean fuel - a closed loop industrial process that recycles oil from local eateries and creates a few jobs, too.
But my bad car karma (or, my car-ma) has led to me to declare my experiments with the alternative fuel a failure.
The tribulations of my used 1999 Volkswagen Jetta TDI began with the engine being replaced under warranty in December 2006, two months after I bought it. In June 2007, my dad, trying to be a nice guy, accidentally filled my tank with unleaded instead of diesel.
Mistakes happen, so I can't hold that against my dad, especially considering that before graduating college, I totaled four of his cars – a '77 Chevy Nova, a '72 Dodge Dart, an '83 Ford Escort, and an '87 Firebird.
Obviously, that I am not the world's best driver contributes to my loathing of my dependence on automobiles. Yet I figured that making my own fuel might repair some of my bad car-ma.
So after paying a mechanic to drain the unleaded from my diesel, I started in earnest trying to mix biodiesel. A friend of mine has been mixing his own biodiesel for years, and I learned from him.