Video: Fuel up on vegetable oil

updated 4/22/2005 1:40:24 PM ET 2005-04-22T17:40:24

Spurred by rising energy prices, groups and individuals across the country are considering diving into used frying oil and local seed crops as diesel fuel.

Among them is the Montana-based Alternative Energy Resource Organization, which is considering establishing a new cooperative to process fuel from those sources to make what's known as biodiesel.

AERO member Doug Crabtree said the discussions are in an early phase but similar efforts have been successful elsewhere.

"It takes the initial investment and getting all the players to the table," Crabtree said. "It's not insurmountable."

Crabtree, who owns two diesel-powered trucks, said he believes the success of Sustainable Systems in Missoula can be emulated by Helena-based AERO.

The Missoula firm got started by recovering the used frying oil from the University of Montana campus and using the resulting fuel in buses.

"I have a personal, vested interest in making this happen," Crabtree said. "I fully intend to have something going this spring or summer. Whether that's on an individual basis or with a small co-op, it's too soon to say."

Matt Elsaesser, chairman of the SAVE Foundation, said his organization plans to add a biodiesel truck to its Helena recycling route. Burning the fuel, he said, offers both environmental and economic advantages over its conventional diesel, now selling at about $2.50 a gallon.

Elsaesser said SAVE will get its biodiesel from Tanner Franklin, who produces small quantities of the product at his Canyon Ferry residence using waste frying oil. From raw product to burnable diesel fuel involves about eight hours.

"It's something we've always looked at," Elsaesser said. "Using a renewable fuel has a lot of appeal to us. This is a great way for us to demonstrate our commitment to the environment."

The fuel is made through a chemical process where glycerin is separated from vegetable oil fat. Supporters say the resulting product has lower emissions than conventional diesel, is less toxic than table salt and biodegrades as fast as sugar.

"The fact that you can take a product that's already been used once and turn it into a fuel has a lot of appeal to me," Franklin said. "I think it will catch on in this part of the country."

Franklin makes his own fuel in 15-gallon batches.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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