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Talking 'bout a veggie oil revolution

Rising gas prices and environmental concerns drive the movement to run vehicles on alternative fuels



The aroma of greasy French fries is thick in the air. But no, I am not in a fast food joint, I am leaning on the side of an idling Toyota Hilux, running quietly on waste vegetable oil (WVO). The only telltale sign this vehicle is different — aside from the smell of fries, which makes my stomach growl — is a 60-litre tank installed on the bed of the pick-up truck. Standing beside me Squamish resident Scott Kerr, owner of Pacific Biofuel Supplies, reveals why he believes the Sea to Sky Corridor is leading the charge in this alternative fuel industry.

"It is the only place that I know of in Canada that has all the waste vegetable oil bases covered with three organizations — Pacific Biofuel Supplies is building and selling components for vegetable oil conversions, Switchover is doing conversions and Transphat is selling processed waste vegetable oil," he said.

Kerr's journey down the WVO path began a few years ago when he moved to Squamish and launched a conversion business, Switchover, with his friend, Geoff Hill. Having set up the UBC biodiesel program more than 10 years ago, Hill brought that experience to the table, yet as Kerr confesses, neither of them were mechanics, which posed a bit of a challenge, notably with newer vehicles. And so in March this year the business was sold to a mechanic, Shayne Rogers — a move which Kerr describes as a win-win for everyone — while he branched out into the supply side of things, building and selling parts for conversions.

The concept of running vehicles on vegetable oil is certainly not a new one — in fact, it's been around since the early days of the diesel engine. At the Paris exhibition in 1900 an engine built by Rudolf Diesel was running smoothly on peanut oil, yet as petroleum fuel became more available, it quickly developed into the fuel of choice.

But today, as the price of gas increases and the effects of climate change are better understood, vegetable oil is once again becoming an attractive option for some folk.

And it's a relatively simple change for good, notes Kerr.

"The thing that I think is good about waste vegetable oil is that it's something you can do right now without dramatically changing your life," he says.

Running your vehicle on WVO

Step one in WVO conversion: you need a diesel vehicle. Size is not a factor — in fact, Switchover has been converting vehicles ranging from VWs to school buses and is currently looking at converting a semi-trailer truck.

The conversion process takes roughly two to three days to complete and will cost anywhere from $1,300 to $3,000, says Kerr, adding that the return on investment is between six and eighteen months.