Good News/Bad News for Alternative Fuels


Very interesting report in the Los Angeles Times about an L.A.-based eco-conscious gearhead DBA Lovecraft Biofuels, converting old diesel cars (specializing in '70s and '80s Mercedes diesels) to run on pure vegetable oil–costs around $700, takes around four hours, and produces a set of hip, planet-friendly wheels with exhaust fumes that, we are assured, smell pleasingly of tempura.

Of course….

According to John Millett, spokesman for the EPA, "No motor vehicles have been certified by the EPA to operate on vegetable oil," and neither has it certified conversion kits. Millett adds that the Clean Air Act prohibits converting a motor vehicle to operate on any fuel other than the one the manufacturer used to obtain its EPA emissions certificate. Violations can bring fines of $2,750 for individuals and $32,500 for manufacturers or dealers. Biodiesel is the only alternative fuel that has passed the EPA's testing standards that study emission components and their health effects, allowing it to be a registered, and therefore legal, fuel.

[Converter Brian] Friedman is working on a way to add diesel to the converted car tanks to, in effect, create a legal, but dirtier, fuel. Devotees of the vegetable oil concept continue to navigate in a legal gray area. On online forums, including [his company] Lovecraft's, owners of converted cars discuss emissions, road taxes, oil rancidity, lubricity, flash points, biodegradability, particulates and hydrocarbons. They debate how and if they should pay fuel taxes, register to haul waste oil, and locate the correct tax forms.

Lovecraft Biofuels Web site.

NEXT: Criminally Illegible

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  1. This sounds like a great opportuntiy for a politically appointed EPA head or vice-head or whatever to make an executive decision and tell the lifer bureaucrats to approve the damn cars or drop dead instead.

  2. It is a great opportunity for somebody at the EPA or elsewhere in government with what’s best for the public in mind. Unfortunately, it’s government by the lobbyists, for the lobbyists these days.

  3. DBA Lovecraft Biofuels

    Ia! Ia! Cthulhu Fhtagn!

    No wonder the EPA won’t approve veggie oil cars. They’re really powered by the souls of those sacrificed to Azathoth and Yog Sothoth!

    What Would Nyralathotep Drive?

  4. If we gubmint-hating libertarian diesel owners had any balls we’d simply use home heating oil to avoid the fuel tax. Note: doing this in the sun belt will significantly increase your chances of getting caught.

  5. What with an average of three washashore whales annuallu on Nantucket, the Vineyard and Cape Cod, it behoves John Kerry and Jack Welch to abandon their pandering to the turbine lobby , set up a tryworks, and convert their SUV’s and Lear Jets to cetacean biodiesel.

    So distinctive is the large smell of well aged and partially combusted whale that its use on the roads here will obiterate all complaints of tempura exhaust in California, which is only 20,000 miles downwind .

  6. You’d think that after decades of running into problems like this the greens would get the hint that government regulation isn’t the best answer.

  7. I guess that the EPA has come to the conclusion that anything not specifically authorized is forbidden. It’s so much easier that way.

    America: Land of the free*

    *if you have permission

  8. “Biodiesel is the only alternative fuel that has passed the EPA’s testing standards that study emission components and their health effects, allowing it to be a registered, and therefore legal, fuel.”

    This is demonstrative of a particularly high level of insipid governmental stupidity given the fact that the number one product used in creating Biodiesel is, get this: vegetable oil.

    By putting vegetable oil through a chemical process, you can create biodiesel, and in fact there is a small but growing subculture of biodiesel home-brewers.

  9. Russell, that was freaking hilarious.

    This is the type of issue that could work for a libertarian Democrat. People like Gov. Sweitzer and Senate Candidate John Tester, both of Montana, are making some positive moves in that direction.

    Larry, though you may not hear about on the Reason weblog, environmentalists put quite a bit of effort into reducing regulations they see as harmful (sprawl zoning, for example) and criticising the government for over-managing (wild fire policy, for example).

  10. It would certainly enhance Governor Sweitzer’s reputation as an outdoor sportsman, for The Montana Wrong Whale is an elusive beast , demanding a keen eye , a strong throwing arm and the largest of Swiss Navy Knives to secure.

  11. For those who like to play with wrenches, do-it-yourself veg oil conversion at VW Fatmobile

    Ben Masel
    libertarian Democrat for US Senate (WI)

  12. mediageek at August 7, 2006 10:48 AM,

    I don’t think this is quite the slam dunk you make it out to be. Once something undergoes a chemical process, you’re talking about a different material. All bets are off. C.f. carbon->benzene, phosphorus->organophosphates, and salt->metallic sodium and free chlorine.

    To fabricate an example: High sulfur crude oil can be made into gasoline. Suppose you could convert your vehicle to run on it. If burning the crude would asphyxiate anyone in the bicycle lane, it shouldn’t be allowed, even though burning gasoline is permitted.

    Emissions should be mandated, but specific technologies shouldn’t be. Whatever you burn is fine as long as you’re not harming others (CO, O3, and particulates) or damaging their property (NOx and SO2). The “harming others” exemption may one day extend to excessively hazardous fuels and radiation emissions. We’ll see.

  13. Maurkov-

    I’m certainly willing to allow that you’re correct. I honestly don’t know what the waste product from an engine running on vegetable oil would be.

    Perhaps it’s time to go a-googlin’…

  14. More veggie fuel will put an already strained burden on the nations fresh water supply.
    We should leap-frog this choice as soon as possible. We need a paradigm shift and stop being channel brained about mere modifications.

  15. Cal EPA story. I like inline 6’s. Im a mechanic. Got this 81 Ford I use for a worktruck. When I got it, it barely ran, had no power: couldnt pull overdrive. It got 10-13mpg. It passed emmissions. After I got it thru emmissions, I put on a offenhauser manifold, set of headers, big 2bbl, binned the cat, & put on a straight thru glaspak.
    17-22 mpg. Pulls OD w/o trouble. illegal as hell.
    in a couple months, I have to put all the crap stock stuff on, limp it down the street, get it smogged, then commit the same crimes to get it runnin proper.

  16. The good news: we’ve developed a car that will run efficiently on recycled vegetable oil taken from restaurants.

    The bad news: they’ve just banned cooking with the type of vegetable oil we need in restaurants…

  17. Were I able to forget the unholy dread that haunts me since my soujourn in L.A., I would, yet in my dreams the inescapable horror of this mad alternative fuel returns nightly, leaving me no choice but to confess the whole tale from beginning to end….It was vegetable oil..but composed of hydrocarbons whose molecular structure was all wrong..a hideous configuration that could only be produced from vegetables not of this earth.

  18. Applause for HP!

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