Archive for the biodiesel Category

Fossil Fuel Free Concert Series: Ben Harper and Jack Johnson Shows in Santa Barbara

Posted in biodiesel, clean energy, conservation, ethical consumerism, global warming, green energy, sustainability, transportation on September 15, 2008 by theseep

Last month Laura and I were fortunate enough to make it to see two of our favorite artists, Ben Harper at the Santa Barbara Bowl on August 22nd, and Jack Johnson at UC Santa Barbara on August 27th. Each of these trips are about a 220 mile round trip and to save money and relieve our eco-guilt, we of course drove our biodiesel vehicles in another installment of Fossil Fuel Free roadtrips. For the Ben Harper show it was just me and Laura, so we took the 2003 Jetta TDI wagon which gets 37+ miles/gallon on our homemade biodiesel. The show was fantastic, Santa Barbara Bowl is a fantastic venue, and watching Harper rock out on his slide guitar will drop your jaw in amazement as he melts your face off with his ridiculous musical talent.

For the Jack Johnson show, we carpooled with some friends and took the Vegfalia for some straight used vegetable oil transport. The Jack show was fantastic as always and as a bonus, he has the “All At Once” initiative in full swing. His mellow musical stylings always get the crowd swaying and bouncing to the beat, listening to his honest and heartfelt lyrics.  The show was a bit festival-like, with the All-At-Once tent and a circle of tents housing various environmental groups as well. Impressively, the entire concert tour is striving to be carbon neutral, through biodiesel-powered tourbuses and generators and CO2 offsets. Also, there were water stations to refill your reusable bottles, discouraging bottled water, there were recycling bins next to every trash can, the concert T-shirts were organic cotton, and if you collected enough stamps from refilling your bottle, carpooling, and visiting the environmental non-profits there, you were entered to win a JJ skateboard or to get up on stage with Jack. Also, any donations to the non-profits were matched by the Johnson Ohana Charitable Foundation. Basically Jack Johnson is demonstrating by example that large events and tours can have minimal environmental impact and he it seems that he is successfully converting fans to be more mindful of their consumption.
Go Jack!

Biofuels Comparison Study – Conclusion: Properly Planned Biofuel Is A Great Transition Fuel, Poorly Designed Is Superbad.

Posted in biodiesel, clean energy, conservation, ethical consumerism, global warming, green energy, politics, sustainability, transportation on May 11, 2008 by theseep

The results of a study by University of Washington and The Nature Conservancy are shown in the chart below, detailing the efficiency and impact of various biofuel production strategies.
Basically it shows what we already know about corn ethanol and soy biodiesel, and other “food-for-fuel” crops – they are extraordinarily inefficient, using large amounts of fossil fuels, water, pesticides, and fertilizer to produce, and directly detracting from food sources. Because of the recent food shortages, these biofuels are getting another look as a potential part of the problem. Unfortunately all biofuels are being vilified by this media hype, and even efficient processes like sugar cane and cellulosic ethanol or waste oil and algae-based biodiesel are getting a bad name as well.

One of our biggest problems is the lack of foresight – the U.S. government has been supporting corn ethanol extensively due to lobbying and special interests even though it is though it actually uses more resources than it produces. If we can put our resources toward developing technologies like cellulosic ethanol and algae biodiesel, we will have bridging biofuels that will allow us to continue to use existing combustion technology as we reach peak oil. This will be a critical phase for further development of the next generation of renewable energy production and infrastructure.

In 20 years, after peak oil has been reached and fossil fuel prices are ridiculously high, our combustion technology will be mostly obsolete and electric cars powered by next-gen battery technology. Once again, for this to happen smoothly, we need strong and wise leadership that will resist corporate and lobbyist influence and be able to encourage the most efficient and promising technologies.

via treehugger and Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Shell Oil CEO Informs Employees That Peak Oil is an Estimated 7 Years Out!

Posted in alternative fuel, biodiesel, clean energy, conservation, ethical consumerism, global warming, green energy, sustainability, transportation on January 28, 2008 by theseep

In a move that defies the stance of other petrochemical giants, the Shell CEO, Jeroen van der Veer, sent a letter to employees stating in no uncertain terms that peak oil is about 7 years out. (bold type for emphasis by treehugger)”Regardless of which route we choose, the world’s current predicament limits our maneuvering room. We are experiencing a step-change in the growth rate of energy demand due to population growth and economic development, and Shell estimates that after 2015 supplies of easy-to-access oil and gas will no longer keep up with demand.”

Van der Veer goes on to briefly and reasonably discuss the shortfalls of current public energy policy and renewables. Do you think they meant for this to become general knowledge? It’s time to ramp up our battery/hydrogen/cellulosic ethanol/wind/solar research, according to Shell, we’ll see a sharp increase in oil prices ($500/barrel?) by 2015!

via treehugger

Chevy’s Greenwashed “Gas Friendly to Gas Free” Marketing Campaign

Posted in alternative fuel, biodiesel, clean energy, conservation, ethical consumerism, global warming, green energy, politics, sustainability, transportation on December 9, 2007 by theseep

OK, we all know that all of the U.S. car manufacturers have made decision after decision that is leading to their own demise. First, the engineered obselescence of the 80’s and 90’s – you need to keep buying new cars if the one you bought was designed to fail, right?  Brilliant strategy.  Once they knocked that off and lost the faith of the U.S. consumer, they launched ad campaigns convincing a frightening number of us that big, powerful cars are what you need to be a rugged, manly American.  They even managed to get ridiculously unnecessary tax incentives passed for ginormous SUVs to sucker in more people.  Unfortunately for the American worker, they have continued to lag behind the rest of the world’s auto manufacturers and have yet to give us a reasonably sized hybrid or alternative fuel car with the exception of the Chrysler Sebring and Malibu (I don’t consider the Impala “reasonably sized”) 

Now Chevy has answered all of our environmental prayers by launching their new “Gas Friendly to Gas Free” marketing campaign.  This ridiculous attempt at greenwashing lists the following subjects:  Fuel Efficiency, E85 Ethanol, Hybrid, Electric, and Fuel Cell.  Let’s go through the list:   

#1:  Fuel Efficiency – although some chevy cars get decent gas mileage, they still don’t match up to most foreign offerings, with Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Minis, and VWs taking all of the top MPG spots.  Some improved technology has come out, limiting the use of cylinders when not needed, but this is mostly in huge vehicles.  Thanks for polishing our brass – love, the Titanic’s crew. 

#2:  E85 Ethanol – Once again, almost all of these Flex-fuel vehicles are massive SUVs.  Also, when was the last time you saw E85 at the pump in most of America?  This in addition to the fact that corn ethanol is THE WORST BIOFUEL available!  For every 1 gallon of fuel you put into the process you only get about 1.3 gallons of fuel out.  Corn requires large volumes of irrigation, fertilizer, and pesticides.  And don’t forget that you’re taking a needed food source to pour into your SUV – it just doesn’t make any sense at all.  Please feel guilty and picture a starving child while you pour what should be their corn into your fuel tank.    

#3:  Hybrid – What is their first hybrid?  A freakin’ Chevy Tahoe.  You have got to be kidding me.  This wasteful monstrosity gets a whopping 20-22 mpg, and although that’s good for an SUV, it’s downright horrendous for your most eco-friendly offering to date. Why not take your Aveo or Cobalt, which get 24/34 and 24/33 (city/hwy mpg) respectively, and make one of those into a hybrid to compete with the Prius or Civic hybrids? 

#4: Electric – Ahh. . . The much discussed Chevy Volt.  For one thing, didn’t you already make one of these that worked marvelously?  Oh right, the EV1.  They were repossessed and shredded (not even recycled or disassembled!).  Whoops!  The Volt is still vaporware to date (but to be fair, so is the much anticipated Tesla Roadster).  If/when it actually does come out, it might be a pretty sweet ride.    

#5:  Fuel Cell – Yet another concept that will probably never reach any one of us.  Can we please get some people with money and brains (Sir Branson, would you consider this as the next X-prize?) together to design a functional, reliable, long-lasting, non-toxic super battery/fuel cell/whatever?  All we need is a power source people – that’s all the hydrogen and fuel cell concepts are – glorified batteries.  I think that ultracapacitors might do it (still vaporware as well, though) – imagine driving your electric car for 250 miles or more and when you run low, plug in to a power station, swipe your card, and charge up in minutes!  Maybe if the oil companies would release some of those battery patents they’ve gobbled up, there would be one worth developing.   

Basically, I’m asking that nobody fall for this greenwashing campaign of Chevy’s.  Don’t buy an SUV just because it’s a hybrid or it’s Flex-fuel – don’t buy one, period!  If they really cared, they’d stop making Hummers, Tahoes, Escalades, and all of the other gas-guzzling compensation tools and make super-efficient, hybrid, alternative fuel (the forthcoming algae biodiesel or cellulosic ethanol), or electric work vehicles, people-movers, and small personal transportation vehicles.  Admittedly it would take a lot of chutspa for a major auto manufacturer to trim the fat and only concentrate on these types of vehicles.  Toyota is coming close with it’s goal to go all-hybrid, but that’s not enough.  If one of the American companies would step forward to this goal, it could be done, and it could be accomplished with American ingenuity and style and we could lead the world once again in transportation innovation.

Any takers?   

VolksVegan – Another Vegetable Oil Powered Westy!

Posted in alternative fuel, biodiesel, clean energy, ethical consumerism, green energy, sustainability, transportation on November 30, 2007 by theseep


Sweet Camping Spot

Originally uploaded by meganpru
In planning our upcoming fossil-fuel-free roadtrip to Ft. Collins, CO and Salt Lake City, I’ve been scouring the web for help with finding vegetable oil while on the road and have come across not only another “Vegfalia” blog at Volksvegan.org, but their site pointed me to Fillup4Free.com, a growing database of VO coops, restaurants with WVO available, people and businesses with filtered WVO available, and others just using VO in their vehicles. It’s a fantastic resources for people trying to travel on vegetable oil.
Megan and Seneca, the VolksVegan folks have some incredible photos and some fantastic posts about their travels on vegetable oil. It’s great to see others dedicating themselves towards sustainability.
Nice work guys!

Vegfalia Hits 300,000 Miles, Last 4,000 Without Petrol

Posted in alternative fuel, biodiesel, clean energy, conservation, ethical consumerism, green energy, recycling, sustainability, transportation on November 12, 2007 by theseep

We’ve just passed a fantastic milestone in any vehicle – the 300,000 mile mark.  Although the Vegfalia has only run 1% of these miles on biodiesel and veggie oil thus far, we’re hoping for many more miles out of her. In today’s disposable society, conservation is still the easiest and best way to protect our resources, and taking care of and preserving an older vehicle can still be more eco-friendly than getting a new one when you factor in the energy and materials required to build it. Granted, driving around a poorly-tuned 1975 smoke belcher isn’t what we’re talking about and at that point you could probably upgrade to something more efficient. Don’t forget, if you have a favorite vintage frame that you’re still in love with keeping alive, you can always consider converting it to electric.

Fossil Fuel Free Roadtrip #’s 2 and 3

Posted in alternative fuel, biodiesel, conservation, ethical consumerism, global warming, green energy, sustainability, transportation on September 28, 2007 by theseep



Originally uploaded by neuphoto57

Over 8 days we managed to take 2 separate veggie oil trips to the southern part of Big Sur, California. Since we live in San Luis Obispo, we can make it to Kirk Creek, Limekiln, and Julia Pfeiffer Burns campgrounds within 2 hours straight up the incredibly scenic and legendary Route 1. It’s approximately a 190 mile round trip, and as we drive through Cayucos where we got married, the minimally existent Harmony, quaint Cambria, and up along the cliffs and hills overlooking the edge of the Pacific. The first overnighter was just Laura and myself, reminiscing on the early days of our relationship. We watched the sunset, played guitar, and talked until we drifted off to sleep on the relatively comfortable upper bunk. The next day we hiked a bit and headed home.
This past weekend, we headed back up Rt 1 with our cousins Cindy and Thomas. We decided to go “Westy only” for camping, with Laura and I in the top bunk and Cindy and Thomas in the lower. We brought sandwiches from Gus’s and shared a local bottle of wine to a nearly full moon and topiaries. The front seats held the laptop for an evening showing of Tenacious D and The Pick of Destiny to top it off (luckily the viewing angle was decent from both bunks). In the morning, we hiked part of the trail to Vincente flats across from our campground, used the shower I installed in the back of the Vegfalia to wash the poison oak and dirt off from the knees down, made a quick stop for a few photos of Elephant seals and made it to a few wineries in Paso Robles before heading home. This may sound a little strange, but it was fantastic to spend good time with family and not feel guilty about using fossil fuels – Thomas even refilled the same water bottle the entire trip! We’re still working out the bugs in the Vegfalia. I had to take out the heat exchanger water heater because the coolant hose blew again that is teed off to the Greasecar kit. Hopefully that issue is settle for now. This week I’m trying to tackle fixing some of the electrical issues with the power locks and repair the broken heater flap cables under the dash.

First Fossil Fuel Free Roadtrip a Success! The Vegfalia Makes its Debut.

Posted in alternative fuel, biodiesel, clean energy, ethical consumerism, green energy, sustainability, transportation on August 31, 2007 by theseep

Vegfalia and Mount Hood

After 6 months in the Autostadt West shop rebuilding the transmission and installing a 1.9L Turbo Diesel engine, our 1987 Vanagon Syncro Westfalia has finally returned to the S.E.E.P. It had biodiesel running through it’s veins within hours, and the next day I started installing the Greasecar SVO conversion kit. Because of our limited time off work, I only had one day to complete the conversion and test it before we took off for our first experimental road trip. Aside from a few minor glitches, we traveled almost 2000 miles on only biodiesel and vegetable oil from San Luis Obispo, CA to Hood River, OR via Bend and then returning through Portland and Santa Cruz. Since there was a paucity of biodiesel and/or filtered waste veggie oil, we had to carry fuel with us and fill up when we could, including a Costco in Sacramento for around 19 gallons of bulk vegetable oil and a big fill-up of biodiesel in Portland including both of our tanks and 4 plastic cubes that got us home. Overall, the trip was fantastic, Laura and I enjoyed the much-needed disconnect from work and home projects, and although our dog Marley was a “nervous nellie” while driving in the Vegfalia, she definitely enjoyed the hikes. The official Vegfalia page has been started and will be regularly updated with our experiences and modifications – fossil fuel independence is not difficult and is doable for anyone who wants to put forth the effort!

Maple Syrup gets Even More Vegetarian!

Posted in biodiesel, conservation, ethical consumerism, green energy on April 28, 2007 by theseep


We all love the guilty sugar-laden pleasure of watching sweet, organic maple syrup run down over the edges of our breakfast carbohydrate cakes. I personally like to cut my pancakes up first, then use some of the pieces as a dam to keep the syrup in one corner of the plate for dipping. We all add our own style and panache to our use of the liquid gold, but a Vermont syrup farmer Dan Crocker, owner of Sidelands Sugarbush, has added an eco-friendly style to his maple syrup.
It seems that even the syrup farmers are seeing the effects of global warming as well, losing 3 days, or 10 percent of their narrow 30 day harvest period over the last 40 years. Although the industry is relatively environmentally friendly, the distillation process requires heat, which traditionally requires fuel oil. Mr. Crocker, with the aid of an $8,900 grant from the Dept. of Agriculture’s sustainability program, has converted his fossil fuel-fired heaters to vegetable oil! Even in the harsh winter of Vermont, he is able to start up the burners on regular oil, then switch over to burning waste vegetable oil to process the sap into yummy VT maple syrup.
Nice work, Mr. Crocker!

via Stefan Teitge, M.D. and the NYT
Photo Caleb Kenna for the NYT

Home Biodiesel Production now in the Black!

Posted in biodiesel, ethical consumerism, green energy, recycling, sustainability on April 17, 2007 by theseep

Well, after 1 1/2 years, we’ve made 540 gallons of biodiesel in our appleseed processor and driven somewhere north of 13,000 miles on this renewable, CO2 neutral fuel. We’ve spent $1670 to build the processor, wash tank, storage tank/fueling station, a small shed to house it all, and the methanol and KOH needed for the process. With the current batch of homebrew B100, our total cost per gallon will be $3.09, now under the market price for dino-diesel. From here on out, the basic costs will be around $1.00/gallon for biodiesel and $0.25/gallon for filtering used vegetable oil. We currently have a Jetta TDI at 43mpg and by next month we’ll have the ’87 Westy Syncro TD Vanagon running biodiesel with a vegetable oil conversion getting an estimated 28-30mpg. Assuming that we drive a combined 15,000 mi/yr and take into consideration mileage, we’ll spend $269 on biofuel as opposed to $1394 for fossil fuel, saving $1125, reducing our cost by 80%, negating the CO2 emissions, and no longer require foreign or domestic petroleum. Granted, it takes time to do all this, but now that I have the process fairly wired, it takes less than 3 hours for a batch of 30 gallons.

I officially consider our biodiesel experiment a success! At the very least, we’ve broken even, decreased our fossil fuel use, and learned a ton. Plus, from here on out we’ll be saving money as well as being part of the solution not the problem.

Seek out biofuel options in your area!

Biofuels Boom Raises Tough Questions: AP Report

Posted in biodiesel, conservation on March 12, 2007 by theseep

A recent Associated Press article, republished in Wired magazine, Salon Magazine, and other popular internet sites, confronts some of the issues with using Ethanol. This, in the wake of Bush’s unwelcome visit to Brazil, making deals with the Brazilian government for importing sugar cane ethanol. The article is straightforward and honest, raising questions to the feasibility and efficiency of this biofuel political and economic scheme. Now I’m all for biofuels, but ethanol has already become riddled with corporate and lobbying interest and is being touted as a far better solution than it really is.
The article covers a great deal of the problems with using corn-based ethanol, as is being pushed politically in the U.S.. To break it down: The U.S. Government is encouraging the use of certain biofuels, especially ethanol made from U.S. grown corn, with a goal of 20% biofuel use by 2020. Production on this scale using present technology would take an estimated 100 million, or 12.5%, of the 800 million acres of farmland in the U.S. and supposedly is a realistic goal in some politician’s eyes.
A few issues:
1. Ethanol takes on water and is difficult to transport and store, requiring retrofitting to infrastructure and vehicles to use it.
2. Corn-based ethanol is extraordinarily inefficient to produce – it takes 3 gallons of petrol or biofuel to make 4 gallons of corn ethanol, a 1:1.3 ratio! By comparison, biodiesel is more on the order of 1:8, and sugar cane ethanol is 1:15!
3. Ethanol is approximately 10% less efficient than gasoline, meaning that we would be using 8.5% more E85 to go the same distance. This brings overall production efficiency down even further, to around 1.22 gallons of ethanol produced for every 1 gallon of fuel used!
4. Corn requires a large amount of water, chemical and petroleum-based fertilizers, as well as toxic pesticides to grow. More of these harmful substances will be used and will run off into streams, rivers, and water sources.
5. By losing 12.5% of American farmland, other produce and crops will increase in price, affecting millions of people and potentially leading to food shortages around the world. With the beginning of the ethanol boom in the U.S., tortilla prices in Mexico have already risen by 60%!
6. Cellulosic ethanol, that is, ethanol made from plants like switchgrass and straw rather than food crops, yields 3-4 times more fuel for the same input, but is more expensive.
7. The corn-growers and the American auto industry have a significant vested interest in making ethanol work. Growers stand to profit significant subsidies (misplaced though they may be). Auto makers are able to meet new fleet efficiency standards by making enormous, overpowered SUVs that are “flexfuel” and able to run on ethanol even though it isn’t even available in most areas.

There are many more problems with our current push towards corn-based ethanol. All of the promise and hooplah around CO2 offsets, CO2 sequestration, so-called “clean coal”, and even some of the biofuel and alternative energy technologies is being misrepresented and already corrupted by corporate involvement and political powerplays. CO2 offsets are simply a money-making trading scheme that may help somewhat, but money is often mismanaged and projects to fulfill the credits are poorly planned and lead to other environmental problems. CO2 sequestration is expensive, untested, and yet another temporizing method. “Clean coal” is an oxymoron but is being promoted in congress by coal miner’s union lobbyists and energy companies and is simply an excuse to build more relatively dirty power plants (albiet somewhat cleaner than traditional coal). Current ethanol policy is allowing automakers to “greenwash” their production of biofuel and gas-guzzling SUVs and promoting the least efficient biofuel technology that we have available. All of these misguided policies are actively being misguided by special interest groups and corporate interest groups that stand to make significant profits, rather than being guided by proper research, development, and use of technologies that will benefit us all.
What few seem to realize is that every single energy technology that we produce, is still much more resource intensive than the simple act of conservation. I propose that we as a country can decrease our fossil fuel use within the next 5 years by at least 25% simply by personal and community conservation and a transition to currently viable technologies such as solar, wind, and highly efficient building techniques. This requires an active participation by every American and a conscious effort to use, consume, and waste less. We use 8 TIMES as many resources per person than any other country in the industrialized world and by curbing our appetite, we will decrease our impact far more quickly and inexpensively than by falsely promoting poor technology as the U.S. is doing now.
Despite this, research into biofuel production is absolutely necessary as we grow closer to peak oil production and resources become more strained. Last summer, researchers in Minnesota found that biodiesel made from wildflowers and naturally growing field grass without irrigation or chemicals could yield a 15:1 ratio of production to input! Advances have been made in algae-based biodiesel and our incredible scientific knowledge can put transgenic technologies into growing highly efficient crops for biofuels rather than utilizing sorely needed food crops. There is much work to be done, but rather than relying on nascient or burdgeoning technologies, we can start our conservation now, individually, in our own homes and businesses.

Response to my Right-winged Friend’s Email on Gore’s Energy Use. Also, Presenting "Ecophasing", the "lazy environmentalist" Hobby.

Posted in biodiesel, green energy, solar on February 28, 2007 by theseep

One of my extraordinarily intelligent, yet inexplicably right winged friends, Beetel wrote:
“You guys need to get a new spokesman. This one’s so full of shite you can smell it on his breath. Just gonna hurt the cause in the long run.” then goes on to quote the information on Gore’s personal energy use following An Inconvenient Truth’s oscar. (also via hugg)

My reply:
Shame on you.
A. Stop trying to downplay the importance of the global warming message by attempting to discredit the spokesperson (a childish yet common political tactic sadly used by both republicans and democrats).
2. It’s true that Gore should significantly decrease his energy use. However, although he is not “walking the walk”, as skeptics say, with his everyday consumption, he is utilizing a great deal of this energy to “fight the fight” as we idealists say.
III. Make sure you look at the opposing side’s retort prior to sending around fire-fueling propaganda – check this article and newcast out. There’s another interesting article here.

I’ll say “I told you so” in 30 or so post-apocalyptic years when you’ll be piecing together blackmarket robot parts in an underground nanotechnology lab to arm a cyborg revolution and I’ll be heading up the U.N. council on Biological Threats or some other such disaster management problem that will have surfaced by then.

I apologise, by the way, if I’m overtired and rambling, but I’m 1/2 asleep after an overnight shift.

Here’s my extended but not complete take on the matter:
We really do have to stop the global energy crisis and it has to be a bipartisan and cooperative event. This is not just global warming, but also an issue that encompasses our resource use and our fossil fuel use and it’s political ramifications; not to mention the global instability caused by American Imperialism in our search for more oil.
How do we start a solution?
As individual Americans.
One simple way to start a change is to realize that the choices that we make in our daily consumption lie at the heart of the problem. If a corporation’s mass produced, resource-hungry, preserved, chemical-laden “food products”don’t sell because no educated consumer in their right mind would eat them, then they won’t make them anymore. If people refuse to wear sweat-shop produced, fertilizer-laced cotton shirts, then eventually they won’t be produced either. If people choose to buy fair-trade, organic coffee, the poor village in Africa or South America can get paid for what their work is worth and their village will eventually get better sanitation, better healthcare, and better living standards.
I think that although personal consumption is “personal”, and people should be free to live their lives as they choose, the true costs of goods, services, and resources need to be paid by the consumer. This means that cost will go up, availability will be limited, and resources will be expensive (as they should be). This means that yes, some people will lose their jobs, but at the same time many jobs will be made and new industry will form to improve renewable energy technology and manage our resources. Energy will eventually be just as, if not more plentiful than it is in the current oil-based energy economy, it will be more available to developing countries, and it will cause less harm and pollution to the earth.
All of this prosperity comes at a price, however. This means that many multinational corporations would have to lose power and lose wealth, losing a few jobs and making a miniscule percentage of our population slightly less wealthy. Wow, what a terrible sacrifice. For this to happen, local communities need to flourish again and cooperate to manage their allocated resources wisely. For this to happen, the individual person needs to start with simple choices in conservation and try to improve from there as they are able.

I can get downright evangelical can’t I? Maybe that will be one of my future campaign speeches.

On a personal “green” note, my Vanagon is in Sacramento getting a Biodiesel/Vegetable oil conversion! So aside from the brush with death from an enraged Hummer driver (discussed in my blog), we’ll be off liquid petrol within the next 2 months.
So far, by putting solar on our house last year, we have cut our home power use by 70% and are saving ourselves $1680/year in electricity costs. The biodiesel I’m making is costing me $1.40/gallon to make and after I make 4 more batches (3 months or so), the money I spent on my system will have paid for itself then it’s all savings from there! Then we need to work on our natural gas furnace and hot water heater. That will take a few years I think, but the current thought is a waste oil furnace/hot water heater combo – I’m hoping to combine our waste oil collection, biodiesel production and home heating all into one source and one process in the corner of the garage. I also have a rainwater and greywater cachement system in mind, but that’s further off.
Once we’re done, it will take me 10 hours of labor and less than $200 a month to provide CO2 neutral fuel for our family including transportation, heat, hot water, and electricity (as opposed to more than $350/month with traditional energy sources). This “greening” of my lifestyle, or “ecophasing” as I’ll call it, has actually been fun and become sort of a hobby. Rather than playing video games or stare at a television all day, everyone can try to stay up to date on politics, technology, and environmental news, trying to figure out how to spend the least amount of money and make our living as green as possible while maintaining a modern and convenient lifestyle. I think I’ll start an “ecophazing” movement, or is that too “Sally” of a name? Whatever it can be called, It’s a good and legitimate way to get people to decrease their footprint and conserve resources.
My latest project, besides the biodiesel vanagon, is a kick-ass commuter bike with cargo capacity and style. I’ll be able to bike to the grocery store and if I’m feeling particularly frisky, could take my surfboard the 20 miles to the beach and 20 miles back (that would be fairly bad-ass (or is it “bad-assed”) and I think that I’ll have to build up to that. Using this frame (not in red), and mostly recycled parts, it will have an xtracycle attachment for carrying capacity (groceries, surfboard, etc), LED lighting, and a chalkboard paint surface for environmentally-friendly hippie propaganda, peace signs and other sweet drawings. It’s going to be funky-fly-fresh. For extra eco-dork street cred, I’m considering a POV (persistence of vision) wheel kit, sporting an uber-geek bling-bling recycle symbol. You have to check the POV wheel out, even though I do recognize that it is using unnecessary resources and power, it absolutely is the coolest thing you can do to your bike for less than $50. I also might eventually wuss out and get one of these electric conversions, but for now I’ll opt for the extra sweat.
Hope it’s not too cold in the midwest. It’s been raining here but fairly comfortable in the 60’s and sunny today.
Not to rub it in or anything.
Later –
Clint

update: A reponse by my friend has proposed “enviro-ninja”, or “econinja” as a more stylish and tougher name for the environmental hobbyist. This, of course, referring to the the ninja’s legendary ability to “leave no trace” and blend in to the environment without being seen.
Plus, the costumes are fun.

Parking Incentives for Alternative Fuel Cars!

Posted in biodiesel, green energy on February 21, 2007 by theseep

In doing some research on alternative fuel grants, I was browsing the U.S. Department of Energy’s “Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy” site. It has listings of grants and special programs for renewable energy. Under California’s “Exemptions from Requirements/Restrictions” section I found a great parking deal if you’re an alternative fuel or electric car driver!

For being a treehugging, progressive, forward-thinking, doomsdayist biodieseler or EV-1 Zealot, you get free meter parking in: Sacramento, Santa Monica, Hermosa Beach, and L.A.! Hybrids get free metered and metro lot parking in San Jose! Some people in the Bay Area might qualify for reduced or free tolls and HOV lane privileges! Of course, you do have to apply for them, display emblems, and jump through some hoops, but free parking in L.A. while driving Laura’s homebrew B-100 burning, hippie-chic silver Jetta TDI Wagon? Sweet!
Check out these programs for alternative energy and put some of our government’s money to good work!

FUH2: The Story of Anti-Hummer Road Rage Retribution

Posted in biodiesel, conservation, ethical consumerism on February 18, 2007 by theseep

Over the past year, I have taken to the simple and self-satisfying habit of flipping off any H1s or H2s that I see on the road. This was inspired by the site fuh2.com, a collection of submitted photos of other Hummer-haters demonstrating their disdain for these vehicles. To many environmentally conscious people, myself included, the H2 in particular is a symbol of the excessive American consumption, waste, inconsideration and obliviousness that has lead to our current climate crisis and contributes to injustices around the world. This may sound like rhetoric or an overly-dramatic representation, but this is the utmost truth. H2s get 9-13mpg, comparable to shipping trucks and light duty construction equipment, that is, half (yes, 50%) of the abysmal U.S. average of 21mpg (2006 EPA data). They are poorly designed to fit on our highways, our parking lots, and have less storage and seating capacity than the average crossover vehicle or minivan. The worst part is, they are most often driven in the city by one person and rarely, if ever, do any type of the towing or off-road functions that it was purportedly designed for. H2s also carry an childish, introverted “machismo” with them. GM’s latest ad campaigns with “get your girl on” or “reclaim your manhood” appeal perfectly to the short-sighted, selfish, wasteful, immature Americans with self-confidence issues and superiority complexes that actually would purchase these monstrosities.
The point of this post, however, is to describe my latest experience caused by my FUH2 philosophy. My wife and I drove down to L.A. this weekend on a mission – she went to a meeting for a master’s program, we saw some family, and we picked up a few diesel engines that will allow us to convert our ’87 VW Syncro Westfalia campervan (Sally is her name) to biodiesel/vegetable oil!
As we drove, we saw a ridiculous number of L.A.-style Hummers and my finger was getting tired. While one was passing us, I lifted my weary finger, managing a bored and nonchalant flip through the window. He saw this, and with an angered, maniacal gleam in his eye, slammed on his brakes and swerved into our lane, forcing us (a borrowed Jeep Cherokee towing a trailer with 2 engines in it) to maneuver to avoid him! Luckily we didn’t get injured, but it made me think.
I said, “Self?” (because that’s what I call me) “Self, why do you feel a need to flip off hummers? What does it accomplish?”
I have always felt a little bad about it, I mean, although the middle finger has many meanings, at its worst, it is a pretty solid symbol of disdain, anger, and hostility. Not a very Zen thing to be waving about town. However, in the back of my mind, besides giving me some self-satisfaction, I had hoped that if Hummer drivers get flipped off enough, they might think, “why is everyone so mad at me?” “Maybe this choice of vehicles is inappropriate considering our current climate and energy crises, maybe I should get another car?”
The experience of being nearly killed by an enraged, irresponsible, self-absorbed, hyperconsumer with no accountability showed me that this is likely not to be the case. The mindset of someone who actually thinks that it is a good idea to buy a Hummer, that it makes them more powerful, gives them status, makes other people envious, etc, would not allow for a realization of this magnitude. They are much too self-absorbed. Here’s but one of many examples of an comment battle between Hummer and anti-Hummer fans – notice the lack of grammar, insight and overall intelligence reflected in the pro-Hummer postings. Very telling.
“But Clint,” you say, “If flipping Hummers off won’t save the world, what will? What do we do about this terrible overconsumption?”
Well in an ideal world everyone would get over their complexes, selfishness, and greed, and do whatever they can to help in stopping and reversing our current global crisis. People would simply “Do the right thing” and cut back their consumption. This can start with simple but significant things like selling your Hummer, replacing your bulbs with CFCs and maybe even buying some solar panels with the money you made off your H2. The effort can then continue to improve from there in small, inexpensive steps. Unfortunately, our society has much too much invested in purchasing, commerce, ego, and money. It has lost interest in civility, honesty, and respect for their fellow human. If we cannot entrust the future of the entirety of human civilization to the “Individual American”; asking them to make the “right choice”, starting simply by conserving energy, minimizing your carbon footprint, and curbing your wreckless consumerism, then to whom can we turn?
If the “Individual American” can’t be trusted to make the right choice, then we need to initiate a tax, a monetary disadvantage, or a compensatory payment that will counteract the desire and ability to own a Hummer or other similar mechanical behemoth. What can be initiated politically is the formation of a “Luxury Vehicle CO2 Tax”. Basically anyone driving a vehicle that gets less than 25mpg or so and can’t show that that vehicle is legitimately used for their profession (ie. farmers, contractors and the like) need to pay the true costs of their vehicle choices. In order to affect the market, this would have to be on the order of $2000-$5000/year of the life of the vehicle. The money generated can go directly to CO2 offsets for the calculated emissions for the year and the remainder can fund alternative energy products. Everybody wins! Also, our government needs to remember that since it is expected and reasonable to place laws to stop people from hurting other people, it can also place laws to stop corporations from hurting people. We cannot allow auto manufacturers to sue the state for limiting emissions and increasing mileage requirements. These companies cite unfair profit loss and unfair competition from foreign manufacturers (who have been meeting the proposed standards for years!) as a reason to halt government action that is intended to protect the average American. The corporations should not be seen as having the same and sometimes more rights as the American citizen.
Any takers in congress that aren’t in the oil companies or auto manufacturer’s pockets?

Home Biodiesel Production Diary

Posted in biodiesel on January 4, 2007 by theseep

I’m starting a diary of our use of biodiesel for a reference to those curious about getting involved. Here’s the first entry:

Biodiesel Diary: Our 1 year and counting experience with biodiesel

1/3/07

Progress thus far: Since 10/05 we have made 420 Gallons of Biodiesel using used vegetable oil from The Splash Cafe in San Luis Obispo, CA. We have spent a total of $1665 on our system and supplies thus far (not counting the cars), making our total cost per gallon $3.96, but with an ongoing supply cost of only $1.40/gallon. By the time we’ve made 650 gallons or so, we will have brought our total cost down to $2.50/gallon, the current market price for petrol diesel. From there on out, we’re saving money by making our own fuel from renewable, domestic resources.

Impressive.

We have driven over 8,000 miles in a 1984 Mercedes diesel wagon. The Mercedes ran very well with biodiesel, the only conversion we had to do was to change the fuel lines to vyton to prevent breakdown from the fuel and change the fuel filter twice over 3-6 months due to the solvent powers of biodiesel and leftover gunk in the tank from petrol diesel. These can be done fairly easily yourself or can be done for a few hundred dollars or less with a local mechanic. The mercedes never stalled, never needed other servicing and ran like a classic 22 year jalopy should – reliably and resolutely.

Current car: 2003 Jetta TD Wagon, purchased 11/06 and we’ve driven over 1000 miles with no problems. We have not modified the car in any way from stock to run our home-brew biodiesel and are doing great! We love the heated leather seats and power sunroof, not to mention that it gets over 40 miles per gallon!. I’ll post a full review of this biodiesel gem soon.