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The Frugal RVer: Want cheap diesel fuel? Make your own!

As a youth, I was very much into cars and airplanes. For most people my age, the automotive allure was with fast cars. Not me. I was into finely engineered cheap vehicles. My first car was a Volkswagen. It checked all the boxes: inexpensive to buy, superbly engineered, cheap to maintain and operate. In the 1970s, I discovered diesel-powered Mercedes-Benz cars. I’ve owned many of them and very few others in the years since. Mercedes also introduced me, indirectly, to the versatility of the diesel-powered vehicle. It will burn practically anything.

The wonders of diesel engines were driven home to me in the 1980s at the airport. I worked at a flying service that also sold aviation gasoline and jet fuel. Three trucks dispensed the fuel into aircraft. Each day, all three trucks plus the main storage tanks underwent a safety inspection that included draining their fuel sumps and checking for contaminants. Employees drained about three gallons of fuel from the various tanks every day. Pouring the liquid samples into the fuel truck or an aircraft was prohibited, so samples went into 55-gallon waste barrels behind the hangar. The company then paid a hazardous materials service to haul the waste fuel to a disposal facility periodically.

No chicken bones, just oil

I drove a Mercedes-Benz diesel sedan that was fueled with restaurant kitchen waste oil, carefully sifting out the chicken bones and French fries before pouring it into the tank. One day it occurred to me that because the Benz would run on anything, why not try the discarded jet fuel? After all, it’s nothing more than kerosene, a slightly refined relative of diesel. I rounded up a hand-crank pump and filled my tank. It worked. I’ve been experimenting with waste products as fuel ever since.

You can too.

Make your own diesel fuel out of plants

While I have addressed diesel fuel alternatives here, there are ways to make diesel fuel out of plants and other waste products, such as coal slag and wood biomass.

Others are making use of diesel fuels that they have made using varying degrees of sophistication. Here’s a story of a rancher who addressed his high-cost of diesel fuel by making his own out of vegetable oil.

The benefits

There are also tax incentives involved in DIY diesel, due to the federal government’s efforts to promote alternatives to fossil fuels.

Restaurants, bars, aviation fixed-base operations (FBOs), grocery stores, bakeries are all businesses that are potential sources for fuel that can run, or be made to run, in your diesel engine.

(Note: Diesel engines new enough to require “Diesel Exhaust Fluids” may not be able to run on homemade biodiesel.)

Making your own diesel fuel, whether it be biodiesel or synthetic, will not only dramatically cut your RV fuel bill, but you will enjoy a good feeling from recycling waste, reducing reliance on petroleum and reducing America’s reliance on foreign oil.

“The second type of synthetic fuels, commonly referred to as Fischer-Tropsch liquids, use feedstock that can be converted directly into commercially viable liquid fuels, essentially skipping the syncrude step. The most common feedstocks used to produce Fischer-Tropsch synfuels include natural gas, coal and biomass (plants and plant waste). In F-T synthesis, the feedstock is subjected to very high heat — 1,900 degrees Fahrenheit (1,037.7 degrees Celsius) or higher — and pressure to produce a mix of carbon monoxide and hydrogen called synthesis gas (or syngas) [source: Van Bibber]. This step of the process makes Fischer-Tropsch liquid fuels much cleaner than fuels produced from crude or syncrude. Impurities like heavy metals can be easily removed from the gasifier after the syngas is filtered out. Gases like carbon and sulfur can be filtered out so they don’t become pollutants when the fuel burns.”

HowStuffWorks by Matt Sailor.

More on this topic next Saturday.

##RVT1035

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Mike in New Hampshire
10 months ago

Fake news? C’mon…

The reason I found this is that I have a farm, and have access to wood and chips. I happen to be off-grid solar powered, but biodiesel might be a valid choice in one of my 1970’s diesel tractors. And during the winter, when there’s snow on the panels (and I don’t feel like shoveling off the roof!), a small diesel generator fits the bill.

I realize this is an RV travel site, and I wouldn’t recommend putting this into any vehicle you paid more than a couple thousand bucks for. However, if you have an old diesel schoolbus, why not? I’ve seen a few converted into fine-looking low-budget campers. You could acquire an army-surplus diesel generator, and use it for powering or charging batteries (if you can’t get enough from solar panels).

The spirit of the article is “how it works”, not “is this the best thing to run your half-million dollar RV?” After the invasion of Ukraine, gas/diesel prices are now running at $5 or more. Don’t squash American ingenuity!

Noah Cohen
10 months ago

Gas prices going up happened long before Russia/Ukraine. The USA gets about 3% of it’s oil from Russia, which is spit in a bucket.

friz
1 year ago

Okay, where/how am I going to find “discarded jet fuel”? I suppose I could call/visit jet airports and ask. It never occurred to me they would be discarding it. Would you shoot me an email with a little explanation? Thanks

Fred
6 months ago
Reply to  friz

Yes, diesel fuel separates from water after settling for a few days. But you can also remove water heating the diesel to 60° celc (using a heating element. You can also make your own using waste motor oil and distill it using a wmo still (similar to a Kentucky still). But there are definitely drawbacks, it’s high sulfur count, probably plug DPF’s etc etc. But older (pre97) diesels use mechanical injection pumps. Which will run distilled oil fine. Other options is WMO, use a centrifuge ($1800~) to clean the oil. Then dilute the cleaned motor oil with 20-30% gas. But this can really only be ran in pre emissions piston mechanical injection pumps. (Mercedes om617, p-pump Cummins 6bt, idi 6.9l and idi 7.3 diesels.

billh42
1 year ago

There is no way I would run “homemade” diesel fuel in a modern diesel engine. You would have no idea what the cetane rating is (Similar to an octane rating for a gas engine). The turbocharger is very sensitive to Exhaust Gas Temp. And you would destroy any warranties for the engine and pollution control equipment. Ask yourself if you are willing to risk a $20000.00 diesel engine to save a couple of bucks on fuel.

Diane – I’m surprised you let this article slip through?

Admin
RV Staff
1 year ago
Reply to  billh42

Ha! I’m amused (and flattered) that you think I have that much control over what’s printed here, Bill. As I like to say (tongue in cheek), “I just work here.” I appreciate your, and others, concerns on this subject. But please read Randall’s response to you and the other naysayers which he posted about an hour after your comment. And also watch for his next post on this topic next Saturday. Have a good night. 🙂 –Diane

Dana Young
1 year ago

Don’t forget to pay your state and federal fuel taxes as you complain about the highways.

John Koenig
1 year ago

(Note: Diesel engines new enough to require “Diesel Exhaust Fluids” may not be able to run on homemade biodiesel.)”

Your side comment says it all. MODERN diesel motors are MUCH MORE highly refined than what was used decades ago in “the good old days”. DEF diesels became mandatory in 2010 and several years prior to that, all sorts of “emission reducing technologies” were commonplace.

NO WAY I’d risk a $20,000 diesel motor to save a few bucks.

How much did you get paid for your “Clickbait” article?

Crowman
1 year ago

Put a bottle of vegetable oil in the refrigerator overnight and look at how it turns to semisolid at 37 degree’s. That what homemade diesel will look like in your fuel tank so better have a tow service on speed dial. You’ll need it.

bill n stacey
1 year ago

What A Crock! Iam a diesel mechanic…This is Fake News, (rvtravel.com YOU are loosing credibility) with alot of stuff you allow to be published! Shame on you…

Tommy Molnar
1 year ago

The days of going around and ‘collecting’ McDonald’s and Wendy’s old deep fryer grease ARE OVER. There’s no way in heck today’s diesel engines will run on this trash no matter WHAT you do to it. One bad tank of commercial diesel fuel could leave you limping along on the freeway – or worse, on desolate two-lane somewhere. Trying these ideas is the worst idea I’ve heard in years.

Lucius Glover
1 year ago

Bad information for any RVer to take this seriously. A retraction should be issued.

John147
1 year ago

Fake News!!

Engineer
1 year ago

This is the most irresponsible article I’ve read in recent years. Pure nonsense on a modern Diesel engine….

TIM MCRAE
1 year ago

Not very useful. Went from “this can be great” to “modern engines can’t use it anyway” to very obtuse and techno babble while skipping all detail.

Fred
1 year ago
Reply to  TIM MCRAE

I agree. Totally useless article for most rvers, especially fulltimers, or anyone driving a truck newer than 2010, which is the vast majority of rvers. I tried making my own diesel back in the late 2000’s, using discarded restaurant vegetable oil. I researched it carefully & used a recommended method at the time, using vegetable oil, gas & a couple of other ingredients. It worked for a few months, until one day the truck wouldn’t start. Upon inspection, the crank case oil had turned to thick jelly, destroying the engine in the less than one year old truck. I was able to convince the dealer that the engine was defective & they replaced it under warranty ($16,000) with a new crate engine off the production line.

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