Power Up With Recycled Cooking Oil

Biofuels might be the help small farmers are looking for to ease rapidly increasing energy costs.


Letitia Star

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The high price of diesel fuel doesn’t bother Henry Brockman: He runs his truck and tractor on recycled vegetable oil – a move that saves him more than $1,000 annually. Brockman, who farms 10 acres in central Illinois, buys his environmentally friendly fuel from a rural neighbor who filters vegetable oil as a hobby.

“It’s great when doing the right thing for the environment also saves money,” he says.

What’s fueling the movement?

Lifestyle farmers can reap plenty of benefits by using biofuels to power diesel vehicles and equipment. In addition to possible cost savings, other advantages include biodegradability and low carbon dioxide exhaust emissions.

Biofuels decrease our nation’s dependence on foreign oil. They also help our national economy because we’re using renewable resources grown or produced right here in the United States.

This issue is so important that the 25 x ’25 Plan, a congressional resolution with bipartisan support, has an ambitious mission: By 2025, America’s farms, forests and ranches will provide 25 percent of our nation’s total energy supply. (To learn more visit, www.25x25.org


The raw truth

Brockman is fortunate to have a dependable neighbor to supply his raw oil fuel. If you’re not lucky enough to have a local source, you always can produce the oil yourself – if you don’t mind filtering used cooking oils. Your local greasy spoons or fast-food restaurants probably will be happy to provide an ample supply for free.

Using straight vegetable oil takes special equipment to filter it properly– you can’t just put used french fry grease directly into your tank. You’ll also need to modify your diesel-run equipment. Check with your original equipment manufacturer (OEM) so you won’t inadvertently damage your vehicles or void the OEM warranty.

Also, there may be an added state or local tax on a homebrew biofuel operation. Check with your state’s department of revenue.

Biodiesel basics

Biodiesel may be one practical, workable option for lifestyle farmers because it comes ready-made and acts as a lubricant that can extend equipment life, saving repair costs and minimizing downtime.

“Biodiesel is primarily made from soybean oil or other oil-bearing crops such as canola. However, biodiesel can be made from any vegetable oil or animal fat,” says Amber Thurlo Pearson of the National Biodiesel Board, headquartered in Jefferson City, Missouri.

“Pure biodiesel and biodiesel blends can run in all diesel vehicles without modification. It’s better for engines than petroleum products due to greater lubricity,” she says.

In addition to farm equipment, biodiesel also fuels diesel cars and light trucks.

“In 2006, an estimated 200 million gallons of biodiesel was produced and used in the United States,” Pearson says. “There are 90 biodiesel plants in operation, with 60 more being built.”

At your local pump?

Biodiesel is increasingly available at public pumps across the nation.

Already cities such as Las Vegas; Austin, Texas; and Greenville, South Carolina, have more than a dozen gas stations offering biodiesel along with petrodiesel and gas. In fact, Willie Nelson sells biodiesel at many BioWillie locations throughout the United States. (See Resources below.)

“At the end of 2006, there were approximately 1,070 pumps selling biodiesel. There has been strong growth, and during 2006, we saw an addition of 100 new pumps every month. We foresee that this trend will continue,” Pearson says.

Biodiesel is often sold in blends including B2 (2 percent) and B20 (20 percent), but you can also buy it as pure biodiesel, or B100.

“Biodiesel and diesel are interchangeable. You can mix the two without any problems,” Pearson says. That means you can fill up your truck without worrying about finding another biodiesel pump when your tank gets low.

Buying direct

Biodiesel isn’t necessarily cheaper than petrodiesel. The price varies at different locations, and it is often more expensive. But you can look for ways to save money by comparing the prices of straight biodiesel with biodiesel blends, and by buying it wholesale instead of at the pump. A wholesaler or distributor also might be willing to deliver biodiesel directly to your farm.

“You can store biodiesel in pre-existing diesel tanks. Farmers should thoroughly clean out diesel tanks before putting in biodiesel,” Pearson says.

“You’ll need to make large purchases to buy directly from producers,” she says. “However, some biodiesel wholesalers or distributors may be willing to sell to small farms. It’s best to call around to learn their company policies.”

Fuel from the farm

Even if you don’t farm for a living, you’ll be helping farmers who do – specifically those who grow soybeans or other crops for biodiesel production.

Plus, you’ll be doing your bit for the environment.

“When I turn on the ignition, there isn’t the heavy exhaust from diesel fuel,” Brockman says. “This makes it easier to breathe and is much healthier.”

For an abundance of reasons, using biofuels is a wonderful way to care for the land and renew the earth while helping our country.


  • Call the toll-free Biodiesel Hotline at 866-BIODIESEL (866-246-3437) to find pumps throughout the United States.
  • To learn about the Clean Cities Program, go to www.EERE.energy.gov/cleancities.
  • For questions on energy efficiency and renewable energy, call the U.S. Department of Energy’s toll-free answer line at 877-EERE-INF (877-337-3463).
  • For national maps of biodiesel distributors or pumps, visit the National Biodiesel Board’s Web site at www.BioDiesel.org/buyingbiodiesel/guide or call (800) 841-5849.
  • Another source for information is FuelMeister (manufactured by Renewal Biodiesel Inc.), www.FuelMeister.com or call (866) 636-6130.
  • Also recommended is the Alternative Fuels Data Center, www.EERE.energy.gov/afdc.
  • For more information on biodiesel and BioWillie locations, visit Willie Nelson’s Biodiesel Web site at www.BioWillieUSA.com.
  • Another resource on converting biomass to liquid fuel is the National Renewable Energy Lab, www.NREL.gov.
  • To learn how to modify diesel vehicles to run on straight vegetable oil, visit the Web site www.GreaseCar.com.