Grease is the Word: Bio-diesel is the New Lube of Choice

Grease is the Word: Bio-diesel is the New Lube of Choice

facebook twitter email Print This
Orem, Tina
Few people know that when Rudolph Diesel debuted his namesake engine in the 1890s, he ran it on peanut oil. Diesel’s vision was to find uses for non-petroleum fuels so that small businesses could compete with the large industries that controlled much of the nation’s energy production at the time. These alternative fuels—biodiesels—powered diesel engines until the 1920s, when fossil fuels became widely available and were cheaper (some also speculate that oil tycoons influenced engine-design changes to support their interests). Today, biodiesel powers diesel engines once again, and it has extraordinary potential to change the future of energy.

Biodiesel is made from vegetable oil. Almost any kind will do, including soybean, sunflower, cotton, corn, canola, coconut, palm, hemp, and even algae. Even some animal fats work. According to Biodiesel America, when biodiesel is burned, it produces no carbon dioxide (greenhouse gas) or sulfur dioxide emissions (which create acid rain), and it produces up to about half the soot, carbon monoxide, and hydrocarbon emissions of regular diesel fuel. It can move through the nation’s existing pipeline-and-pump infrastructure. And most people agree the exhaust smells better than diesel exhaust, which contains carcinogens.

Biodiesel doesn’t work in a gasoline engine. There, fuel is mixed with air before it enters the cylinder, is slightly compressed, and then ignited by a spark plug. Diesel engines, however, don’t use spark plugs and get much hotter than gas engines. They compress air so much that it self-combusts and ignites the fuel. This extra heat is necessary to ignite diesel and biodiesel fuels. What’s cool is that diesel engines actually like biodiesel—according to environmental development group Journey to Forever, biodiesel can extend a diesel engine’s life because it’s a better lubricant. It also provides similar mileage.

But this doesn’t mean you can just pour a bottle of Crisco into your truck and drive away. Vegetable oil is thicker than regular diesel, so it will clog the fuel system if it’s just poured into the tank. The trick is thinning it out. One way to do this is through a process called transestiferication, which removes the glycerin, making the oil as viscous as regular diesel. But scrappy biodieselers know you really can use straight Crisco and not have to depend on a processing company to add a higher price tag... if you know the secret. It’s this secret that is giving more and more people access to free, environmentally friendly, renewable fuel.

The secret is heat. Just like in your frying pan, when vegetable oil is heated, it gets thin and runny. And diesel engines produce a lot of heat. This is why companies like Greasecar and Greasel sell conversion kits, which run $700 to $2,000, that help a diesel engine heat vegetable oil and move it through the fuel system. A two-tank conversion system, for example, uses diesel or biodiesel from one tank to start the engine, runs on vegetable oil once the oil is thin enough, and then flushes the oil out of the fuel system before turning off (vegetable oil thickens when it cools and will clog the system, making it hard to restart the car).

And here’s the free part. If you can get a restaurant to give you its used oil, you’re essentially getting free gas. In fact, many restaurants are glad to unload it because they often have to pay fees to throw it out. This is exactly the deal Scott Brown of Desert Rose Catering has with Burger Bob’s. Three times a week, he picks up the restaurant’s used grease, adds lye and methanol to it, and makes his own biodiesel for his 1997 Dodge truck. It takes a little work, but Scott’s liquid gold only costs him $1.25 a gallon. (This is high, says Scott, because he doesn’t buy lye in bulk: “I’ve got a friend in Red Lodge making it for 51 cents a gallon,” he says).

Cold weather can be a problem, especially for users of waste vegetable oil, which starts to solidify at about 40 degrees. Some people skim the saturated fats off the oil so that what remains stays liquid down to about 23 degrees. However, the easier thing to do is to mix the oil with biodiesel or regular diesel or use additives made just for biodiesel (this is what Scott does). Plugging the car in, if it has a block heater, also helps.

Biodiesel is environmentally friendlier than regular diesel, but it isn’t perfect. Biodiesels create more nitrous oxide (which creates smog and ozone) under some circumstances than regular diesel fuel does, but certain additives can manage this, according to the National Biodiesel Board. Using a catalytic converter or lowering the engine’s temperature reduces these emissions too.

In the end, you have to wonder whether the huge diesel trucks so common in this area, those symbols of red-state philosophy, will soon connote green living. The biodiesel movement is still dependent on experimentation and research, but rising oil prices and demand for cleaner energy bring it closer to the tipping point every day.

For more information on vegetable-oil fuels and biodiesel:,,,,

Biodiesel Retail Fueling Sites

There are hundreds of places in America to buy biodiesel. Here’s where you can go in Montana.

4570 N. Reserve, Missoula
1108 W. Central, Missoula
Sells B20 (diesel fuel that is 20 percent biodiesel)

307 Firehole Avenue, West Yellowstone
Sells B10 and B20

Green Oxy Fuels, LLP
Belgrade, 406-570-8067
Sells B20

Sustainable Systems LLC
1905 Wyoming #4, Missoula
Sells B100 (100 percent biodiesel)


Even though these cars don’t run on biodiesel, they’re still something to think about if you’re trying to get off the oil treadmill. By our count, there are 11 hybrid autos on the market right now. Below is a list of those gas sippers and where you can buy them.

2006 Chevrolet Silverado 1500
MSRP: $25,610
City: 18 mpg
Hwy: 21 mpg
Edmunds Editors' Rating (2005 model): 7.8
Edmunds Consumer Rating (2005 model): 8.8

Ressler Chevrolet
1735 W. Main, Bozeman

Danhof Chevrolet
6605 Amsterdam Road, Manhattan

2006 Ford Escape
MSRP: $26,900-$28,525
City: 33-36 mpg
Hwy: 29-31 mpg
Edmunds Editors' Rating: 7.8
Consumer Rating: 8.9

2006 Mercury Mariner Hybrid
MSRP: $29,225
City: 33 mpg
Hwy: 29 mpg
Consumer Rating: 9.2

Bozeman Ford
2900 North 19th, Bozeman

Paradise Valley Ford
1415 W. Park Street, Livingston

2006 GMC Sierra 1500
MSRP: $26,205
City: 8 mpg
Hwy: 21 mpg
Edmunds Editors' Rating (2005 model): 7.8
Edmunds Consumer Rating (2005 model): 9.1

JC Billion GMC
1919 W. Main, Bozeman

Headwaters GMC
1376 Highway 10W, Livingston
304 1st Avenue West, Three Forks

2006 Honda Accord
MSRP: $18,225-$32,990
City: 20-25 mpg
Hwy: 29-34 mpg
Edmunds Editors' Rating: 8.6
Edmunds Consumer Rating: 9.4

2006 Honda Civic
MSRP: $14,760-$23,650
City: 30-49 mpg
Hwy: 40-51 mpg
Edmunds Consumer Rating: 9.3

2006 Honda Insight
MSRP: $19,330-$21,530
City: 57 mpg
Hwy: 56 mpg
Edmunds Editors' Rating: 6.4
Edmunds Consumer Rating: 9.0

Simpson Honda
8450 Huffine Lane

2006 Jeep Liberty CRD Diesel (can run on B5 which is 5% biodiesel)
MSRP: $25,500 - $30,000
City: 21
Hwy: 26
Edmunds Editors’ Rating:7.7
Edmunds Consumer Rating: 8.4

Yellowstone Country Motors
207 South Second Street, Livingston

2006 Lexus RX 400h
MSRP: $44,660-$46,060
City: 31-33 mpg
Hwy: 27-28 mpg
Edmunds Editors' Rating: 8.3
Edmunds Consumer Rating: 9.2

Peterson Lexus
9101 W. Fairview Avenue
Boise, ID
(208) 378-9000

2007 Toyota Camry Hybrid
MSRP: $25,900
City: 43 mpg
Hwy: 37 mpg

2006 Toyota Highlander Hybrid
MSRP: $33,030-$39,290
City: 31-33 mpg
Hwy: 27-28 mpg
Edmund’s Editors' Rating: 7.7
Edmund’s Consumer Rating: 9.1

2006 Toyota Prius
MSRP: $21,725
City: 60 mpg
Hwy: 51 mpg
Edmund’s Consumer Rating: 9.4

Ressler Toyota
1735 W. Main, Bozeman

Appears in 
©2019 Outside Media Group, LLC
Powered by BitForge