Vegetable Oil Powered Cars - Details of Using Vegetable Oils in Cars

Vegetable Oils in Cars

Vegetable oils are derived from different parts of plants especially the seeds. Vegetable oils are either used directly as a fuel or blended with various materials to reduce its viscosity to use it as a fuel. The viscosity of the vegetable oil fuel is lowered to the desired level for complete combustion. The vegetable oil fuels are extracted mainly through chemical processes. Another way of extracting the vegetable oils is through mechanical means.

Type of fuels used

Vegetable oil is used as a fuel for powering diesel engine cars. The vegetable oil itself is classified as waste vegetable oil, straight vegetable oil and pure plant oil. The viscosity of the vegetable oil fuel is reduced by pre-heating it using the waste heat generated in the engine. Normally the car engine is started in diesel and later switched to vegetable oil fuel when it becomes warm and back to diesel engine before turning it off. The most efficient plant product that can be used for production of vegetable fuel is algae. The vegetable oil fuel can be used straight in a diesel engine or is modified into biodiesel.

The performance of Vegetable Oil Powered Cars

Better efficiency is achieved without making any modifications to the car by mixing vegetable oil fuel with diesel fuel. The vegetable oil should be used within sensible limits to achieve better performance. The production of diesel substitute from vegetable oil is easier and energy intensive than production of ethanol as a gasoline substitute. A duplicate fuel system is installed in the car for heating up the fuel when required. The warm up time will vary depending on the temperature, quality of the oil and the response of the engine to the viscous fuel. The performance of the car is reduced if the vegetable oil used as a fuel is not pure. The impurities in the vegetable fuel may result in the breakdown of the diesel engine. Mechanism for pre-filtering of the vegetable oil is required for a better performance of the vegetable oil fuelled car as these pre-filters avoid filter clogging. Various kits are available to convert diesel car to a vegetable oil fuelled car. The performance and the fuel efficiency of the vegetable oil fuelled cars is dependant on the proper and error free functioning of these kits. Small embedded computers can also be fitted in the car which monitors the conditions and automatically do the fuel switching at the required time. Effective operation of these computers increases the performance as well as the ease of operation of the vegetable oil fuelled cars.

Pros and cons of the Vegetable Oil as a Fuel

Vegetable oil fuels are completely environment friendly. They are far less toxic than fuels like diesel and gasoline. The cost of storing energy as vegetable oil is low compared to that of fossil fuels. Vegetable oil is a cleaner burning fuel compared to other available fuels. Burning of these fuels does not emit any harmful substances into the atmosphere. Another advantage of vegetable oil fuels is that the fuel can be produced locally. The foreign oil dependencies are reduced significantly leading to reduction in the cost of fuel. Properly managed oil production from vegetable products will have little effect on food production. The vegetable fuels have higher flash point and thus has a much lower risk of fire or explosion compared to gasoline. The vegetable fuel is a better lubricant than petro diesel.

Vegetable oils can not easily replace fossil fuels due to its limited availability and difficulty in production. Another disadvantage is the bad publicity regarding the food versus fuel confusion. Some people advocate that the increase in production and demand for vegetable oils will result in food shortages and increased food prices. The use of vegetable oil in cars may cause engine coking if misused. They may create offensive exhaust smells. These fuels are not exempted from tax and excise duty. Diesel engines using vegetable oils are found to be more difficult to start in the morning. These fuels are commonly used only in older vehicles.

Vegetable Oil Cars in different countries

The main source of vegetable oil in the UK is rapeseed. The rapeseed oil also known as Canola oil and has a freezing point of -10 C. United States leads in producing waste vegetable oil. Much of the world production of vegetable oils is from palm.

Environmental benefits of Using Vegetable Oil

The growing demand for vegetable oil fuel may result in causing deforestation. Vegetable oil production needs to be increased by many times to replace the fossil fuels. Such an increase in production will impact the environment adversely. This may affect the ecosystem. Vegetable oil spills are dangerous as they cause an imbalance to the ecosystem. This may increase the biological and chemical oxygen demand and leading to de-oxygenation of water. The environmental issues related to the use of vegetable oil fuel include solid waste and by-products, hazardous materials, wastewater, emissions to air, and water and energy consumption. The processing of the plants to generate vegetable oils results a large amount of organic solid wastes and by-products. The amount of waste generated depends on the amount of the raw materials used and the method chosen for production. The chemical processing of the plants results in generation of many toxic waste products which affects the ecological balance adversely. Good production control systems need to be implemented to reduce the pollutant emission. The waste water generated while processing a vegetable oil is highly toxic. They may contain high concentration of suspended solids, organic nitrogen and oil and fat. Various efficient methods need to be formulated for the waste water treatment.

The vegetable oil processing emits particle matter and volatile organic compounds into the atmosphere. Dust is mainly produced by the cleaning, screening and crushing of the raw materials.

Cost of the fuel

As the solar energy is available free of cost, the cost of solar car fuelling is dependant on the solar panel which generates the electrical energy. Once the initial cost in setting up is covered the running of a solar car is free of cost as the maintenance cost is very less. 

Vegetable Oil Tax benefits in the UK

Many countries have zero taxation over vegetable oil driven cars. Some countries impose restrictions to produce vegetable oils without acquiring proper licenses. For those people who produce or use vegetable oils less than 2500 liters per year, government has introduced exemption on vegetable oil duty to be paid. It has been found that the combined price of vegetable oil fuel and the taxation for its usage has made its price exceed that of diesel fuel.

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