If you thought that you smelled chop suey or egg rolls nowhere near a Chinese restaurant, you might think that you were imagining things.
On the other hand, you might discover that a small, grey VW Rabbit had just driven by. The car might not look like anything remarkable, but inside its ordinary exterior is something special: the capacity to run on used vegetable oil.
The car was a project of Jon Isaak, whose day job is working as the director of the Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies in Winnipeg.
The “veggie-mobile” is one of the ways that he and his wife, Mary Anne, try to reduce their carbon footprint and to make better use of the world’s resources.
At one time, the veggie-mobile was just an ordinary car, running on diesel fuel. However, living as responsible stewards of the world’s resources, reducing the Isaak family’s carbon footprint, and saving money were all motivations for doing something different with it. Besides that, it was an engineering challenge to change the car over to a new fuel system.
Converting the car to a dual-fuel engine involved some skill and mechanical knowledge. The change began with adding a second fuel tank for the vegetable oil and finding a way for the engine to switch over from one source of power to the other.
Normally, the car runs on diesel for the first portion of a trip and then the driver switches it to vegetable oil when the engine is sufficiently warm.
A few kilometres before the end of the trip, the driver switches back to diesel power to allow the vegetable oil to be pushed out of the fuel system entirely, replaced by diesel fuel. This switch back to diesel before powering down is critical, because once the engine is off, the vegetable oil will cool and congeal, which can be harmful to the fuel system.
One of the challenges is finding fuel supplies for the veggie-mobile. Most vegetable car owners find oil sources near home and discover ways to get the oil filtered.
However, calculating the right amount of fuel to take on a trip can be complicated, and the storage jugs take up a lot of space.
For longer trips, contacts with other vegetable car owners are vital for ensuring a sufficient supply of oil to last for the entire drive. Jon and Mary Anne Isaak have found contacts in various parts of Canada and the United States, and these people provide support and encouragement in the quest to become more conscious of sustainable living.
There are approximately 500 people in Manitoba who are running their vehicles with used filtered vegetable oil.
Local filmmakers, Bruce Little and Noah Erenberg, produced a one-hour documentary recently on this subject and their ‘quest to drive for free’, which is airing on MTS Winnipeg On Demand’s Stories From Home. Their one-hour documentary is entitled, Drive For Free – The Alternative Fuel Revolution, and incorporates an in-depth exploration of how to convert a car to run on vegetable oil, among other topics, such as bio-diesel, making fuel from garbage, etc.
Finding ways to reduce waste and to minimize harm to the environment can be a lifelong process. The vegetable car is only a start for Jon Isaak, possibly to be followed by work with biodiesel.
His mechanical abilities are very helpful on these projects, but even people with few or no skills in that area can make a difference. Every little bit helps.