FLINT – Students at Kettering University have found a way to cut their fuel costs and ride the cutting edge of bio-fuels – by burning used doughnut frying oil in their re-engineered Volkswagen diesel Rabbits.
The Michigan natives, Justin Keiffer, of Carson City, Brian Kulling, of White Lake, and Jake Hirschman, of Alma, have formed an informal partnership with two other students to develop and improve their technique of re-engineering the Rabbits to burn 100 percent vegetable oil.
“Right now we are using straight vegetable oil and are working on making our own bio-diesel fuel for use in our vehicles,” said Keiffer, the first of the group to buy a diesel Rabbit with a view toward making it a bio-diesel vehicle. Bio-diesel fuel is a modified vegetable oil, so it doesn’t need to be heated (like 100 percent vegetable oil), to be run through a diesel engine.
Keiffer bought the first diesel Rabbit a little over a year ago, right before fuel hikes “so I looked like a genius with my fuel savings,” he said. The most expensive parts needed to adapt the vehicle were the steel for the vegetable oil tank and the selector (the valve that allows him to switch the engine from running diesel fuel to vegetable oil), they were $60 each.
He now gets used cooking oil from the Village Market Bakery in his hometown of Carson City. Not only does he drive it for fuel savings, but he, Kulling and Hirschman use it in tests for their independent study research in bio-diesel fuels.
All the re-fitting and engine switching is worth it for a savings of more than $1,600 so far this year. “I’ve run my car more than 1,600 miles this year on vegetable oil and saved more than $1,600 in fuel costs since January,” said Keiffer. They average about 50 miles to the gallon. All three have, or will have, vegetable oil tanks mounted in the trunks of their cars. Part of their independent research is improving the system of switching from petroleum-based diesel to vegetable oil.
The students have also entered into an informal agreement with Bosch to test bio-diesel fuels on a test engine at Kettering under the supervision of Dr. Greg Davis, professor of Mechanical Engineering, and Ray Rust, senior lab coordinator in Mechanical Engineering. Bosch is a multi-national company providing automotive technology products like gasoline, diesel and chassis systems and car electronics.
Bio-fuels have been developed for both gasoline-powered and diesel fueled engines, according to Davis. “Both types of fuel reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide a path toward sustainable energy use in the future,” he said.
“On the diesel side, bio-diesel can be produced from any vegetable oil source,” Davis said. “Chiefly, in this country, we use rape seed oil, or soybean oil, and bio-diesel, like ethanol (in gasoline engines), reduces most emissions.” Bio-diesel fuels generally come in three strengths: B2 (2 percent bio-diesel and 98 percent petroleum-based diesel) B20, B100 (made from 100 percent vegetable oil). At the B20 level bio-diesel reduces most emissions by about 15 percent, while increasing NOx by about 2 percent. NOx is a byproduct of combustion engines caused when the nitrogen and oxygen in air react to high temperature in combustion engines forming particulate matter.
“Of particular importance is the ability of bio-diesel fuel to produce a large reduction in particulate emissions (PM),” said Davis. “PM is the ‘smoke’ often associated with diesel engines and is one of the reasons for the limited use of diesel engines in the U.S. B100 can reduce PM by about 50 percent and it provides about the same performance as conventional diesel,” he added.
As to whether or not bio-diesel fuels are a practical solution to future fuel resource needs the three Mechanical Engineering majors almost agree. Keiffer doesn’t think that “there is one answer to future energy sources, since the world as a whole just consumes too much. I do think that bio-fuels are an excellent partial solution.”
“As for practicality, bio-fuels are great, they are renewable and the harmful emissions are far less than those of petroleum fuels,” Keiffer said. Kulling agrees with that assessment, “Bio-diesel is a practical solution because we will never run out of it. But new ways of producing oil feedstock must be developed before bio-diesel can be the entire solution,” Kulling said.
“What will catch on fastest is bio-diesel as a blended fuel,” Kulling said. “It’s already a growing movement. There are 35 bio-diesel refineries nation wide,” he said.
Hirschman is throwing all his eggs in the bio-diesel basket for practicality and as the future of fuel. “I am banking on it,” he said.