Diary of a SVO (Straight Vegetable Oil) vehicle & family!
Hi, my name is Vincent Ambrose and my wife Alma and I are Realtors working in & living in Chatsworth California Wesellchatsworth.com. This is my blog regarding our experience of buying and converting our car to run on Strait Vegetable Oil (SVO).
SVO (Straight Vegetable Oil)
WVO (Waste Vegetable Oil)
Long Time in the making!
I am starting this diary/blog in late February 2007, but I have been researching and planning this purchase for a long time (I made my decision to purchase a vehicle to do a SVO conversion back in May of 2006 and have been seriously looking since. In the mean time I have been waiting for the lease on my 2003 Infiniti FX 45 to expire (I returned the car to Infiniti yesterday). Since that time I have floated the idea past my friends and family. With the sole exception of my wife, everybody else has looked at me like I had completely lost it!! Even more so that usual! My parents have been asking me what I am going to get for a new car for the last 2 months...hoping to God that I had changed my ‘less than sound mind'. My friends have been giving me a hard time about my ‘French fry' car and accusing me of becoming a ‘hippy'. (I laughed at the hippy remark in a sort of ‘screw you' way. Hippie! If you knew me that could not be further from the truth).
An education in the process!
After having first being exposed to the idea of SVO vehicles, I did a lot of research learned a lot in the process. To begin, there is about 4.5 billion gallons of waste veggie oil that goes to waste every year in the US. Now that pales in comparison to the 140 billion gallons of gasoline used in the US each year, but to me that is still shit load of potential mileage that gets wasted every year. One man's trash is another man's treasure, so why not take advantage of an opportunity when you see it!
Why, Why, Why???
Why in the world would I be interested in doing this?? Well, I guess there are a couple of reasons.
1) First, not using "energy" has always been a pet peeve of mine. Call it an oddity, personality defect, or whatever..But for some reason it just seems like there has to be a better way... (Note: I am a product of my time, having grown up through the gas shocks of the 70's, and brown outs of the 80's and 2000's. This pet peeve of mine has led me to buying and installing a solar powered pool heating system for my in ground pool.(which has been just fantastic!!). I also replaced my old water heater for a tankless water heater (that cut my natural gas bills in half!).
2) Secondly, I am a capitalist at heart. And the crux of capitalism is choice and competition. It is what makes America great! But I have always felt like I was getting screwed when it came time to by gas! Where was the choice? I remember my 1st car was a 1969 Oldsmobile station wagon, with a 350 V8 (when gas was only $1.00/gal). I would joke that when I ‘floored it', the gas gauge would move faster than the speedometer!!! But that joke was always said with spite because resented how much of my hard earned $$$'s went into the tank. I guess I have (like many Americans) felt like I had no choice....WVO was an opportunity to "stick it to the man" and make a choice!
Now the catch to this whole thing of using veggie oil is that you must have a diesel engine to make this process work. Now the US is not, and has not been big on diesel engines (which dates back to Anhauser Busch unsuccessfully trying to sell the diesel engine in the 1900's). So to say there is not much selection in the US auto market may be and understatement. Basically you are relegated to 1) A pick up truck 2) An early model Mercedes Sedan 1982 - 1985 predominately. 3) VW Rabbit or Passat. Now that does not give you much to choose from. Luckily, this diesel God's smiled upon me in the form of the Ford Excursion 7.3L. This is (curiously) the only Sport Utility Vehicle made in the US with a diesel engine. But lucky for me I am at a stage in my life where my kids are coming of age to start the whole skiing, camping, beach going, fishing....and a large SUV fits in perfectly with the lifestyle. Now I didn't expect to be making a purchase of "THE LARGEST SUV MADE ON THE PLANET"... but such is life! The Excursion is actually quiet a nice vehicle. Leather, power most everything, plenty of room, comfortably fits 7 adults and their‘stuff'. The 7-passenger feature really comes in handy for us, because now we can take the kids (and in-laws) in one car when we go out. It used to be two cars (which is even worse mileage than one big car).
Now there seems to be 3 different types of individuals that gravitate to this SVO business/hobby/crusade.
1) There is the Midwest individualist "screw the govt, screw the Arabs, I'll do it myself, and support the US farmer" type.
2) There are the "tree hugging, save the environment, this is the solution to environmental gas problem" types
3) And the there are the odd individuals who find this an interesting and viable alternative to the status quo.
All of these types are great and have made this community interesting. I personally find myself in a blend of all three. However, one of the more interesting dynamics is the different camps of the SVO and Biodiesel. During my time I have found that the Biodiesel folks spend more time trying to convince SVO folks to abandon SVO.
March 7th, 2007
I found my SUV!
I finally found my next vehicle and pulled the trigger on it today. After months of searching the market place for just the right Ford Excursion Diesel, I finally found it in Houston Texas. After some negotiation, I purchased the vehicle for $21,000 total. That buys me a 2001 Ford Excursion 2WD Limited (with most all the bells & whistles). Dark blue with a tan interior, it has 71,000 miles, which is just breaking in for a diesel (so I am told). It was no happenstance that the Excursion I purchased is just 12 miles from the SVO conversion shop goldenfuelsystems.com. I was unable to find a really qualified SVO conversion shop here in California. (Hint, hint.... business potential here!).
March 8th, 2007
I call American Greenfuel in Houston TX. They are a dealer/installer for Goldenfuelsystems.com. I speak with Bud Barber (who I had spoken to previously to get info on his conversion process). Bud does a good job of explaning exactly what he does with the conversion process and up sells me on an Artic Fox heating unit that does a better job of warming the oil that the standard unit. I agree and for an extra $115. I then place my order with Goldenfuelsystems.com, total cost $2,065 delivered to Houston TX. Done. No turning back now..The vehicle and conversion are purchased....and no buyers remorse yet!!
March 13th, 2007
I speak with Bud Barber, some of the components are going to be delivered late. We make plans to have Bud pick up my Excursion March 15th, and that the conversion would be completed by Monday March 19th. I purchase a one-way flight to Houston Hobby Airport, which is only 10 minutes from the .
March 19th, 2007
Bud Barber, picks me up at Houston Hobby airport with my 2001 Ford Excursion. I am a little nervous because I have purchased this SUV sight unseen (you know, the way they teach you to NEVER by real estate). But the Excursion looks great. Bud takes me back to the American Greenfuel shop and shows me in detail all of the work that went into the conversion and how to maintain the unit. Bud did a fantastic job, we settle up and I begin my journey back to Chatsworth.
March 19th - 21st, 2007
I drive the Excursion back from Houston TX. A long and not so exciting 1,600 mile drive. I purchase Soybean oil from Costco in 5 gal containers in El Paso TX and Phoenix AZ. It does not take long for people to ask you just "what are you doing" when they see you pouring oil into the tank of your SUV in the parking lot of Costco. General response is that they have heard of vggie oil cars, but the look of general amazement suggest that they thought they would only ever see that on TV.
March 22nd, 2007
I am way behind!!!
I have been swamped with work, kids, life, etc (as we all seem to be these days). So I am way behind on setting up a network of restaurants to source waste vegetable from. Really the crux of this endeavor was to utilize waste oil and turn it into something useful. But I have not put any work against it!!! (In the famous words of Homer Simpson.."Doah!"). But not to worry...it is going to quickly move up on my priority list. I guess that part of procrastination on this point has been the fact that there is a number of fall back positions to sourcing my own WVO.
1) There are a couple companies in the LA area that sell clean/recycled WVO. One easily accessible on the net is VEGGIEFUEL.ORG and they sell the stuff for $2.24/gal and deliver it to your home. (So you have the option to do well for the planet and save yourself approx $1.00 - $1.25 per gallon of fuel). And have the convenience of home delivery. However I have thru the grapevine that these services have been lax with their filtering, so you may be forced to re-filter their oil. I have not experienced this myself.
2) You can always go down to Costco and pick up new vegetable oil for approx $3:50/gal or the same price as diesel fuel. That you can pour right in the tank!
But the plan from the start has been to utilize the WVO...and that is what I am going to do.
March 23rd, 2007
Bingo...I went to my first restaurant and scored a hit looking for oil. I was able to speak with the owner of a local Indian restaurant that my wife and I frequent, and he was happy to cooperate with his waste oil (which the owner confirmed was pure soy bean oil). Turns out he also owns a confection/sweets bakery in Canoga Park and he sends is oil from the restaurant to the bakery (where he uses even more oil)!! A quick visit to the bakery finds a 55-gallon drum almost full of veggie oil. I look at his boxes of oil that he buys from his restaurant supplier (via a quick rummage thru the dumpster) and sure enough pure soybean oil...jackpot!! My wife and I did the fill up by hand and it takes us approx 20 minutes. In the process I ask the Jack (who runs the bakery) what he does with the oil, he tells me that "some guy" picks it up for free and resells it for cents a gallon. I don't think much of it. This will move much quicker after I purchase electric pump/filer unit. I fill up six 4.5 gal containers and truck home with my first catch feeling pretty good!
March 23rd, 2007
I go back to the bakery to talk to Jack; I want to gage the level of the barrel (trying to figure how much of a source this is going to be. Jack proceeds to tell me that he fills up the barrel once a month (say 50 gal/month). I am thinking great...then he tells me the guy who used to pick up the oil came by and was pissed that there was not much oil...turns out that was HIS 55 gal drum, not the restaurant. Hmmm...then it hits me that this is not going to be as easy as I thought, every place I get waste oil is going to displace somebody/company some how. I make plans to get my own 55 gal drum and bring it to the bakery (I am a frequent patron of the restaurant so I assuming the owner will give me first dibbs on the WVO.....need to ask him first).
March 26th, 2007
Still running on oil from the stuff I bought from Costco on my trip from Houston, but I am running low. I jump on Craigslist and find a guy in Canoga Park selling 55gal drums for $25 each. I order two and we make arrangements to meet.
March 27th, 2007
At my suggestion, we visit a local Latin supermarket (chain) that we frequent. There is a restaurant in the market and we know they fry all kinds of food (including chips). My wife speaks to the manager and explains what we want to do, she explains that they have a "tank" out back and some service takes away their WVO. We give her our business card and she promises to call us back to see if we can take some oil. We take a look at the tank out back and it is huge...I am leery of what exactly is in the tank, put note on calendar to call the manager back if we have not heard from her in a couple of days.
March 28th, 2007
The guy from Canoga Park selling 55gal drums apparently has a hectic schedule and we have not been able to meet!!!!, So I am really unable to filter my existing 27 gallons of WVO.
March 30th, 2007
Now out of oil and running on diesel. Filled up w/ diesel at a Mobil in Canoga Park for $2.99 a gallon, which is interesting because the Mobil in Woodland Hills is at $3.31/gal and the Mobil near my home in Chatsworth is $3.35/gal that is a huge disparity!!! And I am not quite sure why?
Later my wife and I (by the way my wife at this point is in full "WVO searching mode" has now taken it to task to find WVO with the zeal of finding a new set of shoes!!). We visit a local Latin market that she frequents for fresh fish. Along with the fresh fish, they offer to deep fry cooking for free. After speaking with one of the guys working on the deep fryer, turns out they go thru about 30 gal/week of pure soy oil. They put it back into the original container and "some guy" comes by on Friday mornings and takes the oil for free. No contract and at no cost to the grocery store, but we were free to take the oil as well. Unfortunately it is Friday afternoon and they do not have any oil because he came that morning, he suggests that we come in on Thursday and take it ourselves. Awesome!! At 30 gal a week this could be the only contact we need, but their will definitely be issues with "the other guy", so it will be interesting to see how this plays out. Put note in PDA to collect next Thursday. (PS I would have never made this contact w/o my wife who speaks perfect Spanish!!).
Later that evening, I hook up with the 55 gal/drum guy and become the proud owner of 2 55 gal drums. They are metal with a top lid, and are in good shape (very clean). I will filter my waste oil this weekend!!!!
April 3rd, 2007
Go back to the Latin grocery store and score 30 gallons of veggie oil! Cool. Also got to meet the owner and explained to him what we are doing. Showed him the inner workings of the Excursion and you could see the surprise and amazement on his face, you could tell he got it. He promised to save all of his oil for us. Great guy!
April 4th, 2007
Did my first home filtering job. Utilizing a 3' long "sock" filter that was rated at filtration down to 5 microns. I had received this filter from the company that did my conversion. Too make a long story short...it was a time intensive and pain staking process of pouring 50 gallons of oil thru a slow filtering "sock filter". Thanks to much help from my loving wife, we managed to finish in about 2 hours with making only a minor mess. However, we resolved that it was not worth the effort and resolve to purchase an electric pumping/filtering unit that I have been eyeing on eBay.
April 5th, 2007
Feeling pretty good about the oil filtering process from the night before, but resolved that I have learned a lesson to purchase that electric pumping/filtering unit. Go down to the garage to survey my oil filtering operation just to find I was about to learn a new lesson!! To my dismay, the 50-gallon drum of clean veggie oil is leaking!!! (Note: I had cleaned and tested the drum for leaks but I had not filled it full of 50 gallon of water!). Now once full of 50 gallons of oil...it leaks *@!!**@*#(. Lucky for me it was a small leak, but it takes me an hour transferring the oil back into the plastic containers. I am less than pleased...lesson learned....test your barrels COMPLETEL before filling with oil.
April 7th, 2007
I fill up the Excursion, now affectionately known as "The Wesson Wagon", with its first Waste Veggie Oil fill up. Approximately 40 gallons and it is full. (approximate dollar savings: $140 at $3.35/gal). I then go for a cruise, with a big smile on my face knowing that I get to drive the biggest SUV in America on a CO2 neutral, no sulfur burning fuel that is essentially FREE.
Feels good! Feels FREE! Feels like I have a choice!
April 10th, 2007
I make the purchase for the electric pump/filter unit. There was not much to choose, really just two units that I could find. One from goldenfuelsystems.com(the company that did my conversion) but their unit was over $900 before taxes, shipping and extra filters. That was a little too much for me. The other unit was being offered by, The Organic Mechanic via their EBay store. After a quick conversation with the vendor, I purchase a ‘Grease Beast DXL' that filters 7.5 gal/minute. With shipping, taxes and 50 extra filters the total cost is $450. However, is a pretty small shop, so at the time their PayPal account is not working and that can't take my payment?!
April 11th, 2007
After resolving their payment issues, I finally order the ‘Grease Beast DXL' electric pump/filter unit. Unfortunately it has to be built and then shipped from Texas...so I am looking at 10-12 days before receiving the unit. A quick look at the 2/3 full tank tells me that I may be out of clean oil before the unit arrives.
April 12th, 2007
"The Wesson Wagon" is running great. I have to leave town for a couple of days, but my wife makes a stop at the Latin grocery store and picks up another 30 gal of WVO. Now I am up to 60+ gallons sitting in my garage!! I am thinking, this is fun
April 20th, 2007
The OrganicMechanic is late with the electric pump/filter unit. They had a “delay: with one of the parts, should be shipping in three days. (Of course I had to call them, fat chance of them being proactive and calling me once the ship date was missed). However I am now out of oil…have to buy some clean stuff at Costco. Quick run to Costco for soybean oil. Costs about $3.50 gallon, slightly more than diesel at the local gas station…..I only buy 14 gallons (should last me until the filtering equipment arrives in a couple of days).
April 24th, 2007
The OrganicMechanic is late AGAIN. And Of course I had to call them!!! This time it is the same delay in production!! Now I am getting really mad. What was 7-10 days is now 14+ with no guarantee I will ever get the unit. (Note: this is not a mature business and the vendors in this space are “not functioning at the top of their game”). My garage has 70+ gallons of oil but none of it usable. It reminds me of that famous saying “Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink”. In my case that would be oil! However, I am still running on oil and having fun!
April 27th, 2007
The OrganicMechanic FINALLY comes through, the product has shipped….I should have it in 3 days. I can wait to clean my oil with the electric pump/filter unit. My wife suggests that I submit my story to the local newspaper as a human-interest story. What a good idea! Leave it to my wife for the good ideas.
May 4th, 2007
After an additional 2 day UPS delay do to train problems?!!! My electric pump/filter unit has ARRIVED!! I have not been this excited since I got my first fishing rod for my 7th birthday! I quickly unpackaged the unit and got to work! Unfortunately the manufacturer forgot to pack the instructions. Oh well, I am fairly mechanically inclined so I got to work assembling the new toy. After a little fumbling and some consternation, we get the unit to work! And boy, after the long wait, it works like a charm. I pumped 30 gallons into “The Wesson Wagon” in a matter of 8-10 minutes!! For anybody who wants to do the SVO thing….this electric pump/filter is the only way to go!! TRUST ME.
May 8th, 2007
I previewed property for the first time in the “Wesson Wagon” with clients today. They were relatively amazed and interested in the concept of running your car on SVO. Now I knew these clients and had a feeling that they would respond positively to the “Wesson Wagon”, which they did. However we do operate our real estate practice in Southern California, and (for better or worse) the vehicle you drive makes a ‘statement’ about you, your business and the level of success you have achieved. Therefore the “Wesson Wagon” will not be the preferred vehicle for meeting clients (especially first time clients), our second car (Lexus RX330) will most likely choice to preview property with clients. (Note: I have already had comments from neighbors that can’t believe that we traded in a $50,000 Infiniti for ‘that thing that makes all that noise’).
May 24th, 2007
The “Wesson Wagon” is running great and I am finding myself in a good ‘comfort level’ now with car and the whole process. The car is running great, my relationships with the restaurants are good and I have about 3 months supply of oil in the garage. The ENJOYMENT from running you car for free and with a much smaller impact to the environment is even better that I imagined!!! I get the biggest kick out of being ‘free’ from the gas pump. It is hard to explain but my wife and I are having the best time!
Looking back on the whole experience, it is safe to stay that one needs to be a little adventuresome to undertake the move to an SVO vehicle. However, having done it I would have to say that the hardest part is the upfront set up (finding a place to complete the conversion, establish relationships with restaurants, and get your filtering setup/process established). Once your upfront work/investment is complete, the rest is really easy. Believe me when I say that picking up the oil once a week from a restaurant is simple (especially as a realtor your always running around town anyhow!!).
My suggestion to anybody who might be thinking of converting your car to run on SVO is to seek out somebody in your area that has already done it. Everybody that I have meet in the “SVO Community” has been extremely helpful and willing to share ideas and lend a hand to newbies. The process would not be very daunting at all if you have a local resource that can hold your hand through the process.