The SVO Underground: Cazador de Aceite
Known as Cazador de Aceite, or "the Oil Hunter" in Mexico City, Nick Wright has an air of scruffy elegance (his sandy blond hair) with a touch of mad genius (his twinkly blue eyes). I met him when I joined a group called the Berkeley Biodiesel Collective about six months ago. The young man from Palo Alto had jogged to our meeting and oozes youthful idealism. It was from his mouth I first heard of powering cars with plain old vegetable oil.
In response to September 11th, Nick had bought a diesel VW Rabbit in October 2001--for his $900 he got a car, a class about how to make biodiesel and twenty gallons of biofuel. He ran the beater (sorry Nick) on biodiesel, describing it as, 'Those first few times on biodiesel man, just driving from one place to the other was so fun. It was like, yeah, there are other ways, and we're doing it; we're kind of subverting the whole thing." Then in December of that same year he heard about Straight Vegetable Oil (SVO), bought a kit from a company called Greasel and installed it himself. SVO is different from biodiesel, which is made by a chemical reaction between vegetable oil, methanol and lye; vegetable oil is just vegetable oil that has been filtered and then heated to make a thinner fuel.
Nick was so in love with his veggie car, he decided to go to Mexico City, and pass on the good word. When asked about his trip, Nick gets sheepish and admits that it was a ridiculous thing to do at all. Instead of babying the admittedly falling apart car by taking the relatively flat coastal roads and then turning toward Mexico City at the proper latitude, Nick wound up taking the Rabbit to the limit.
"I ended up going down and back up the deepest canyon in Mexico on little more than a dirt path, then crossing the Sierra Nevada from east to west on outrageous vehicular tracks. It was something else, ecstatic, wildly dreamlike, touching the absolute cusp of everything for me." When he says this you all you want to do is buy a veggie car and head south.
Thoughout his trip, Wright kept a journal posted at a biodiesel listserve: Here's an excerpt:
"I drove through endless fields of agave, and wound up in Guadalajara by the next afternoon. In some nameless village in between there and Salamanca, I stopped to eat at a small French fry stand. I wound up spending an hour there, talking to people, eating, showing the car to a group of ten.
"I waited while a 12 year old who worked at the fry stand pedaled off and returned with a six gallon jug full of used oil in a homemade wooden bike basket. I love burning French fry oil, above all others. It is the most innocuous juice, it can come pretty clean, it smells the best, and it's easy to find down here.
"More than once, I would be sitting outdoors under a corrugated sheet metal overhang, eating fries, looking at the Rabbit. My mind would recognize that the fries were still dripping piping hot grease, and I would experience a wordless and visceral sense of satisfaction at the symbiosis of me and my car... I really appreciated the fact that I was eating my fuel, that I ate what the car ate."
There are downsides to running a vegetable oil car. One being the loss of space because in order to run SVO you need a separate vegetable oil tank. Nick put his in the bottom of the hatchback, and it takes up a lot of room.
The other concern is where to put those dang tubes! SVO has to be heated in order to work in a diesel engine, so most kits heat the oil by using diverted hot coolant lines that run from the engine to the tank. Many people run the extra hoses under the cars, or between the seats but Wright's system is a little gerryrigged. He passed the lines out from the engine, through the gaping hole from a stock dash speaker, up the passenger sun visor, then along some screwed in big brass hooks to the tank in the back. It looks like a misplaced piece of hospital equipment, providing an oil transfusion.
Nick says everyone laughs when they see it. The other potential problems involve maintenance-things like failed hoses, broken pumps, and disgustingly clogged filters (imagine cleaning rancid white lard out of your tank). But in terms of emission levels (by burning fossil fuel the total amount of Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere goes up, by burning biofuels it doesn't) and costs (free!), SVO is tops.
If you'd like to find out more about SVO conversion and culture, the best resource is the web; try the infopop biodiesel discussion list at biodiesel.infopop.cc, greasel.com, neoteric.ca, greasecar.com, and www.elsbett.com. Read all of Nick's Mexico missives at: Biodiesel.Infopop.cc
Part 3 Continued Next Week...
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