The fry-oil frontier

I got started last week on the topic of biodiesel fuel, which looks like it is well on its way to bringing some game to that black hole that is our national gas jones. In fact, it’s entirely possible that you’ll be able to pull up to a pump and whizinate a biodiesel blend into your tank sometime in, oh, say, the year 2005. (A 5-percent biodiesel blend is now available at Western Energetix, with stiffer proofs and more dealers inevitable).

For those intrigued by the idea of manufacturing their own biodiesel at home in the garage or shed, an interesting change is taking place. It used to be if you wanted to give it a go back in the day (like two months ago), it was pretty simple. You just approached a number of restaurants, asked for their old cooking oil, then turned that potato and zucchini-riddled glop into fully operational biodiesel with this cool $2,000 gizmo (available online at Biodiesel Solutions), and then put the stuff directly into your truck, tractor or Zamboni. Restaurants, for their part, had some motivation to comply, since to them, old cooking oil was just junk grease they would have to pay to get rid of. So it resulted in a nice, mutualistic situation; the amateur biodieselist would haul off this trash oil, free of charge, with which he then brewed up this crazy new space-age “gas,” while the restaurant could cut a monthly expense from its bottom line.

But if that sounds like an idyllic situation that couldn’t last, well, sorta. No, it’s not that Exxon and Texaco are now sending out thugs to brass knuckle backyard biodiesel makers and blow up their stashes. Not yet, anyway. What is happening in recent months is a total 180-degree shift in the basic game. Most restaurants these days don’t have to pay to have their old cooking oil hauled off. Now, they are being paid for their nasty old grease.

Wonder why? Well, the large pancake in my skillet that looks like Mother Mary tells me we won’t have to wonder for long.

It could be that all you’re gonna have to do to support this very sensible development in our cultural evolution of motion is just—buy the stuff. If that happens, it really doesn’t matter what the government, talk show hosts or Alfred E. Neuman have to say about it. If us regular folks like the idea of operating engines with a fuel that is far cleaner tha n our current petro-gases, like the idea of turning a messy waste product like cooking oil into usable fuel, like the idea of growing our own fuels via crops like corn, soybeans and algae, then it seems safe to predict that we’ll not just be hearing much more about biodiesel in the very near future, but also burning it.