- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 5, 2015

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) - Last month, Jon and Michelle Tamashiro and their two teenage daughters took a three-week vacation, driving cross-country from their Grants Pass home to Framingham, Massachusetts, and back.

With the national average cost of diesel hovering around $2.75, the 7,200-mile journey could have cost them more than $1,600 in fuel alone.

But the Tamashiros spent about that on their entire trip.

“We looked into flying and it was going to cost over $500 each,” Michelle says. “The cost, taking this truck, was roughly the same amount, if not cheaper.”

That’s because “this truck” runs on waste vegetable oil.

That’s right, used kitchen grease.

Jon bought the 1992 Ford F-350 long-bed truck four years ago, then bought a waste-oil conversion kit online and had a mechanic friend install it. The total conversion, for parts and labor, was under $1,000, Jon says.

The conversion process doesn’t require extensive engine work, though you do have to start with a diesel engine. Mostly it involves add-on hardware that stores, heats, filters and pumps the oil.

“The oil is thicker than diesel fuel, so you have to preheat it before it gets to the motor,” Jon says. “It’s warmed by the radiator fluid.”

Because the oil is thick when it’s cold, it can’t be used to start the engine.

“You have to have diesel in the line when you start it,” Jon says.

His truck has a two-tank system, one for oil and one for diesel. He uses diesel to start the engine, switching to the veggie oil once it’s warmed up, then uses the diesel to flush the oil out of the engine before shutting it off.

Greasecar Vegetable Fuel Systems in Portland introduced the first commercial vegetable oil conversion kit in the North American market in 2000, says Justin Carven, a representative from the company.

“We have sold around 10,000 conversion kits during the last 15 years and likely an additional 10,000 conversions from other vendors and do-it-yourselfers have been on the road during that time,” he says.

“The peak of interest, though, was reached in 2008 as fuel prices soared. Only a fraction of vegetable oil fuel users are still active now that fuel is relatively cheap again.”

Tamashiro keeps his conversion going because he has a ready, and free, source of used vegetable oil: his family business, Matsukaze. The Japanese restaurant, which has been a fixture in Grants Pass for more than 30 years, uses soybean oil for deep frying.

Tamashiro funnels the used oil through a nylon filter to remove any deep-fryer floaters, then funnels it back into the same thick plastic storage containers that the fresh oil came in.

Each container is packaged into a square cardboard box or “cube,” which hold about 4.5 gallons of oil each.

For their cross-country journey, the Tamashiro’s carried all their oil with them.

“We carried 3,500 pounds - close to 500 gallons,” Michelle says. “We did not pick up any oil along the way.”

Michelle calculated how much oil they would need by making a detailed itinerary, figuring the number of miles to be covered each day, the amount of time it would take and the amount of fuel they would need.

They packed dozens of the oil-filled cubes into the bed of the truck.

“And we wrapped our suitcases in garbage bags, just in case,” she says.

Jon would pour the oil from each cube into a 90-gallon rectangular holding tank in the truck bed, from where it got pumped into the 18-gallon stock tank.

They crushed the empty cubes, stacking them in the back of the truck - depositing them at recycling centers they found along the way.

For their three-week adventure, the Tamashiros planned one week for traveling east, one week for visiting with Michelle’s parents and one week for the drive home.

They left Grants Pass on July 1. The first day’s travel took them to Twin Falls, Idaho, a distance of 627 miles.

“It was go, go, go, the whole way,” says Jon.

They averaged 12.44 miles per gallon. Jon says the mileage was on the low side because the truck was so heavy at the start of the journey.

The truck, which has logged 229,000 total miles and earned the nickname “The Beast,” experienced a few minor mechanical problems - a broken gas gauge, a failed fuel filter, a dead battery.

“We only called AAA twice,” Jon notes.

“But we said a prayer every time we went to start it,” Michelle adds. “It was an act of faith, literally, to do this.”


Information from: Daily Courier, https://www.thedailycourier.com

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