Local man makes biodiesel from used oil
Steve Fugate drives a car that he almost never takes to the gas station. How does he do it? He fuels his car with recycled cooking oil.
Fugate lives in the country between Kalona and Iowa City, and manages the Yoderville Biodiesel Collective. For the past six years, he has collected used cooking oil from restaurants, cleaned it, and poured it into the gas tank of his diesel car and truck.
Fugate collects the used oil from about 12-15 area restaurants and other places such as Mercy Hospital and the Riverside Casino. He has a diesel truck with a hose which he uses to suck up the used oil at the restaurants. He collects the oil once every month or two. Fugate said that he has collected oil long enough that he has become the “oil guy” and often takes phone calls from businesses that want to dispose of certain kitchen wastes.
Used oil is sent to animal feed lots, made into cosmetics and soap, and exported to other countries. Fugate said that putting it to use as fuel is an underutilized alternative.
“Sure we can put it on cattle feed, but displacing imported petroleum would do much more good,” he said.
Once Fugate collects the oil, he brings it back to his house and puts it in an intake barrel. Any solid material settles at the bottom of the barrel and is not used to make fuel. Then Fugate runs the oil through a water heater which heats it to 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
“Heating it speeds up the reaction,” said Fugate. “At room temperature, that reaction might take five or six hours. At 130 degrees, it takes about an hour.”
Fugate said he has to be careful not to heat it too much because the methanol in it begins to vaporize at about 158 degrees.
“You don’t want to heat the oil much higher than 140 or 150 degrees,” said Fugate.
Biodiesel is distinct from gasoline in that it has a very high flash point, which is the lowest temperature at which a volatile liquid can vaporize to an ignitable mixture. He said gasoline’s flashpoint is well below zero, but the flashpoint of diesel is 170 degrees. Biodiesel is higher still at 300 degrees.
Fugate held an open house Saturday to show visitors how he makes biodiesel from oil. To illustrate how difficult it is to ignite biodiesel, Fugate poured a few ounces of the fuel into a beaker and tried to start it on fire with a blowtorch. The vapor did not ignite.
“When they fill up gas tanks, you can see waves of fumes come off the tanks,” said Fugate. “Those fumes are very flammable. Biodiesel does not have those waves of fumes. If you got in a car crash, the biodiesel is not going to catch fire.”
For more, see our Aug. 31 print edition.