Going Green Expo 2008: Biodiesel & biofuel

Editor's note:  CL intern and USF journalism student Franki Weddington files from the USF Going Green Expo:

My first seminar of the day is "Biodiesel and Biofuels," presented by Michael Lokey of Lokey Trucks. If you're surprised to hear that a lecture on environmentally-friendly fuels is being presented by someone who sells gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs, join the club.

While most of the audience of about 40 people seem to be at least somewhat familiar with the concept of homemade biodiesel, I don't even know how a diesel engine works, much less how to create fuel for it.

Fortunately for me, Lokey begins the discussion by briefly explaining the difference betweenDodge biofuel converter, courtesy of Lokey Trucks traditional gasoline-powered internal combustion engines and diesel engines, which use compression and don't require a spark plug. He says that a diesel engine is "basically just like a bicycle." Sure it is.

Instead of using diesel fuel, Lokey says, a more environmentally friendly option is using vegetable oil or biodiesel to run your car. (A Dodge truck biofuel converter is shown at right.) Among their advantages is that they clean and lubricate your engine, can be stored safely for more than a year and reduce carbon emissions. Also, it keeps otherwise wasted veggie oil out of our sewer systems, which Lokey says currently costs the city of Tampa $300,000 annually.

Lokey explains that engines that run on straight vegetable oil (or "svo's" as they're called in the industry) will never become a viable option for mainstream consumption but will remain popular in the realm the environmentallyaware individual.

This is because unaltered veggie oil solidifies if not kept at the proper temperature, which is difficult in most environments and often requires two engines to be feasible. The factory engine houses the majority of the oil, which can be used once the engine is running and has heated it to a usable temperature, and another that uses the car's coolant (which, apparently, is actually quite warm) to heat the oil while the car is turned off.

Biodiesel maker, courtesy of Lokey TrucksFor most people, Lokey says, biodiesel, which is basically just veggie oil that has been chemically or physically altered to remain at a usable viscosity, is a more practical option.

While this may seem like an arduous task, Lokey says that "if you can check the pH balance in your pool and wash a load of laundry successfully, you're probably overqualified" for making your own biodiesel, because essentially the only requirement is adding chemicals that stabilize the veggie oil.

Toward the end of the seminar, someone finally asks the question that we've all undoubtedly been thinking: "Don't you own a truck dealership? Are your trucks all run on biodiesel?"

Lokey looks as though he's gotten this question more than once. "For a small sum tacked on to each monthly car payment, we can convert the trucks to run on biodiesel. That's with approved credit, of course."

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