Recycling truck uses waste cooking oil

Ketchikan public works fueled by leftovers from fryers

Posted: Monday, May 15, 2006

KETCHIKAN - The city's public works recycling truck is helping recycle more than just paper and cardboard boxes. Now, it's being fueled by used vegetable oil.

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Solid Waste Superintendent Bob Sivertsen said he thought it was a waste to put the vegetable oil in containers and ship it south.

"And with the rising costs of fuel," he said, "anything we can do will help."

So he and the shop foreman, Dennis Spurgeon, began researching ways to convert diesel engines to run on alternative fuels and finally decided to go with a greasecar vegetable oil conversion system for heavy duty trucks they found online at

"I guess the curiosity of being able to use a different fuel source than what everybody else was using, and using a product that was a surplus item being deemed as waste," served as reasons to use vegetable oil as fuel, Spurgeon said.

And Sivertsen said: "We're gonna take a leap of faith and gonna do this."

For the past two weeks, the truck has run on straight vegetable oil. Sivertsen said they use the oil that is brought to the landfill, mainly from McDonald's deep fryer, and only have to filter the oil before they use it.

He said they are going to contact all the restaurants and encourage them to give them their waste oil as well.

"It's an awesome use for this stuff," Sivertsen said.

The truck still starts up and shuts down with diesel fuel. But after the engine is heated to a normal operating range, the driver flips a switch that converts it to run on vegetable oil, explained John Holstrom, a mechanic with the public works department. The vegetable oil needs to be heated so it thins and can run in the injection pump without getting clogged because it is more viscous than diesel fuel.

"It's pretty basic," Sivertsen said. "All we've done is changed the fuel; we haven't changed the diesel process."

So far there haven't been any problems with the system.

Holstrom pointed to a knob under the switch that keeps track of how many hours the engine has run on vegetable oil. By May 5, the truck had run a total of four hours and counting.

Holstrom, who helped install the vegetable fuel system, said he expects to get the same mileage and performance from the truck as before. The only difference between this truck and others is an extra 35-gallon fuel tank on the side of the truck with a sign that reads: "This vehicle runs on vegetable oil. Really cool huh?"

Tom Scott and Jeff Purschwitz were the other city mechanics who helped install the system and refurbish the truck to allow it to run on vegetable oil. Holstrom said the only tricky thing with the installation was finding a place to mount everything.

"The advantage is we're making use out of a waste product," Holstrom said. "With increased fuel prices, this is a great alternative."

He even converted his boat to run on vegetable oil. He also said it is a cleaner burning fuel and the exhaust has a unique odor to it.

"Some say that it smells like french fries," Holstrom said.

Spurgeon, the shop's foreman, said enthusiasm for other types of fuel is growing in the local community.

"There will be many eyes viewing this project for success or failure," Spurgeon said.

Sivertsen said the parts cost about $1,500 and he expects to save money by fueling the truck with vegetable oil. First, the cost of shipping it as a waste product is eliminated. And second, less diesel is needed. The department is looking to convert the excavator next.

Another advantage is that it isn't a huge hazardous mess if it spills, he said.

"I just think it's good for the environment overall," he said. "It's the right thing to do."

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