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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



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The converted vehicle starts by running on diesel and switches over to vegetable oil once it warms up to temperature, and when finished, the engine is purged of vegetable oil to ensure it is ready to start on diesel the next time. This switchover can either be controlled by a manual toggle switch, or via an automated system, with automatic temperature switches and a turbo timer to keep the car idling long enough to flush out the vegetable oil after you've pulled your key out, locked the door and walked away.

"We try to make the waste vegetable oil tank the same size as the diesel tank on the vehicle," explains Kerr, "because you get the same mileage with WVO as you do with diesel." The tank gets bolted on the undercarriage, like a regular tank, or fitted into the trunk, or installed on the bed of a pick-up.

Kerr estimates they've done more than 40 conversions since Switchover started, and at a guess, 10 of those conversions were for people living between Lions Bay and Pemberton. Yet despite his company's growing success, Kerr says he is concerned about negative comments on online forums.

"Because this is a niche community and widespread, a lot of the communication happens in forums," he said, "and a lot of people who have a vehicle converted have a vehicle that's 20 years old. When something goes wrong with their car, they blame it on the vegetable oil system and broadcast that far and wide. And sometimes it's nothing to do with the fuel system; sometimes it's clearly not related to vegetable oil at all," he said, noting that part of the problem is that these forums are more accessible than the scholarly research, which is out there as well.

He points out another challenge facing the burgeoning industry, from an operator's point of view, is access to clean oil.

This is where Will Edmondson steps in. The owner of Transphat, which supplies motorists with a source of clean WVO, Edmondson describes it as a "shits and giggles" business to date, but admits demand is growing as people realize that using WVO is a viable way of fuelling their diesel vehicles.

"My purpose in the whole chain of events is to try to make it a little more accessible to people," he says. "I have people living in condos who come and grab fuel for the week and keep it in their closets."

Edmondson says he's developed a positive relationship with restaurants in the corridor, collecting the WVO, then cleaning it and selling it to his customers.

He laughs when he says the job of cleaning the oil, to make it suitable to run in WVO vehicles, could easily be on the TV show, The World's Dirtiest Jobs, but it's a job he doesn't mind doing.