Hawaii’s Veggie Fuel

Few people associate clean transportation with the smell of French fries sizzling in hot grease, but used vegetable oil can be converted into an alternative fuel with many environmental advantages.

Hawaii"s Na Pali Eco Adventures is running a fleet of "veggie vessels" powered by low-pollution biodiesel fuel. Many Hawaiians also use biodiesel to run generators and farm tractors.Na Pali Eco Adventures

In 1995, the Hawaiian island of Maui became concerned about environmental and health problems resulting from restaurant grease clogging its landfill. Operators complained that static-pile fires were becoming more frequent, and the oil could leak into groundwater. Robert King, owner of King Diesel on Maui, spearheaded the formation of Pacific Biodiesel (PacBio) in 1996.

PacBio receives used oil directly from pump trucks that service restaurants and hotels, and the company converts this into 150,000 gallons ofpremium biodiesel each year. This fuel, made totally from recycled cooking oil, is used mostly in generators, commercial diesel equipment, boats and vehicles. More than 40 tons of used cooking oil is recycled per month. Customers range from private businesses to farmers who fill their five-gallon buckets with fuel for their tractors.

Biodiesel is safe for use in all conventional diesel engines, says King, and it requires no engine modifications. Torque, horsepower and fuel economy characteristics are similar to regular diesel fuel. Engine durability may even be increasedbecause lower sulfur content results in more lubrication. Consisting of almost 10 percent oxygen, biodiesel is a naturally "oxygenated" fuel, which results in cleaner burning and less pollution.

Biodiesel is also less harsh on marine environments, which is important since recreational boats consume about 95 million gallons of diesel annually. One tour boat business in Kauai, Hawaii is running a fleet of "veggie vessels." Doug Phillips, co-owner and vice president of Na Pali Eco Adventures, says, "To the best of our knowledge, our vessels are the most environmentally friendly powerboats in the world."

Because biodiesel is more expensive to make than conventional fossil fuel, it is sometimes mixed with cheaper standard diesel. But even as a blend with 20 percent conventional diesel, tailpipe emissions are reduced, and the diesel fuel stench disappears. There is 31 percent less particulate matter, carbon monoxide is reduced by 21 percent and total hydrocarbons by 47 percent. Petroleum diesel grows a form of bacteria that eventually clogs fuel filters and lines, but mixing in biodiesel provides an anti-bacterial agent. "Most users have good intentions with regard to the environment and would use this fuel exclusively if it did not cost more," says Tom Harrowby, operations manager for PacBio. "We would like to see more stations dispensing biodiesel at a lower price."