Sunday, June 1, 2008

A Boater Fights Back

By Lara Bricker
The thought of pumping 120 gallons of diesel fuel into the tank of his 30-foot boat this summer didn't sit well with Paul Sirois.
And so the retired Exeter fire lieutenant decided to take matters into his own hands — he built a biodiesel processor over the winter. In March, he made his first batch of the fuel, and has since made about 200 gallons. The cost of diesel when he checked recently at the marina was $4.59 a gallon. His cost: $1.30 per gallon.
He hasn't used it in his boat yet, but has used it in his tractor.
"There is one drawback to burning this fuel — it makes you hungry," said Sirois, referring to his use of recycled vegetable oil previously used for frying in area restaurants.
Sirois, 54, who was the Fire Department's mechanic and also works as a carpenter, started to think about making biodiesel at the end of last year's boating season. Fuel was around $2 per gallon, but it was rising and there seemed to be no end in sight.
"Since I retired, the price of fuel is a burden," he said.
And so he began his research. He went on the Internet to read about the process of making biodiesel and the equipment needed. A biodiesel processor costs about $2,500, and so Sirois decided to build his own. He went to an area scrap yard and found a stainless steel tank.
"The rest of it was stuff I had hanging around the house," he said.
He went to a local plumbing supply shop for hoses and purchased a heating coil. Then he welded his processor together. The cost of his materials was only about $150. Several of his friends were skeptical.
"He's always experimenting with something, that's what he does," said friend Chris Soave, a fellow retired firefighter and carpenter.
Soave said he didn't hold out much hope at first, but was amazed when Sirois called him one day to say he'd made his first batch of the fuel.
"I can't believe he actually did this," Soave said, adding he decided he might give it a try for his diesel work tractor. "It's not that complicated."
The process begins with vegetable oil, which Sirois picks up at area restaurants. The oil must be strained to remove any particles of food. He was originally going to use an old pair of blue jeans as a strainer, but opted instead for old towels.
Once the oil is strained, it goes into the processor, where it is heated up to 140 degrees for several hours. This gets all of the water out of the oil, which Sirois said is critical. If there is water in the oil, you get chunks of glycerine soap. The oil then sits to cool for at least four hours.
Two chemicals are needed to make the fuel. The first is methanol, which Sirois bought from a race car shop in Eliot, Maine. The second is potassium hydroxide, which he was able to purchase through the Internet.
The methanol and potassium hydroxide are mixed together and then added to the oil. Sirois does the mixing outside with safety goggles and gloves because the methanol is flammable.
The mixture is mixed into the oil and combined for at least one hour. It then sits for about 24 hours and is ready to use.
For the first batch, Sirois started with one liter as a trial run.
"It went superb," he said, adding he was a little nervous at first.
He moved on to a 25-gallon batch, and is now making 50 gallons at a time.
His brother-in-law, Richard Jette of Hampton, who helped him, is also planning to use some of the biodiesel in his boat this summer.
"Dickie was not convinced at first," Sirois said. "In the process of watching me and helping me on the weekends, he became convinced."
Sirois estimates he needs 250 gallons for his entire summer boating season. His boat, a lobster-style Bruno Stillman, burns six gallons of fuel per hour.
Each year, he travels about 250 to 300 nautical miles from his home port at the Great Bay Marina in Newington.
While Sirois admits his initial reason for making the biodiesel was more financial than environmental, he says he has become more impressed with the environmental benefits of the fuel.
"It's not a hazardous material; you can spill it on the ground (with no worries)," he said. The downside of the fuel, he said, is that it will be harder to use in the colder winter months.
His boat, the Sea Jet, required no modifications to run on biodiesel, but he said the fuel will eat away at the rubber fuel lines, which might require their replacement at some point.
While he said the actual process of making the fuel is not hard once you know how to do it, he doesn't think many people will try it.
"It's too much work for people," he said. "It's time consuming and it is a commitment."

1 comment:

Lara Bricker said...

From a Reader:
Good luck to Paul with the diesel fuel thing. I'd like to do the same thing for my Jetta (50MPG ty vm) but it is getting almost impossible to find used restraint oil. Friendly's Ice Cream has the their own processing plant at their Distribution Center in Chicopee, MA. Their delivery folks drop off the ice cream and burgers (unused) vegetable oil and bring the used oil back where it is processed and used to power the same trucks that deliver and pick up the oil (reverse logistics). interesting