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The Potential and Problems of Vegetable Oil Fuel

Besides culinary applications, you can use vegetable or cooking oil as an alternative to automobile fuel. Apparently, vegetable oil fuel is a promising energy source. In fact, running engines on vegetable oil instead of gasoline is not a new prospect. Some countries, like the United States and Brazil, have already had some success in using this alternative fuel but commercialization is still a long shot.

In late 1800, Rudolf Diesel envisioned running diesel engines on various fuel types, including vegetable oil. He used peanut oil to power his newly invented engine.

Applications of Vegetable Oil Fuel

There are several ways to run an automobile engine with biofuels like cooking oil and its compounds.

Vegetable oil blends: You have to mix cooking oil with diesel in an unmodified vehicle to make the fuel compatible with a compression-ignition engine.

Vegetable oil refining: By refining crude vegetable oil by hydrocracking, you get another kind of biofuel to power a car engine.

Converting engines: Engines are optimized for the specific fuel they run on. So, you have to tweak a diesel engine to run it on cooking oil.

Straight vegetable oil (SVO): Pure vegetable oil can also be used as fuel. However, it needs to be conditioned through heating to reduce viscosity and surface tension.

Biodiesel: This is a type of biofuel that comes from vegetable oil. It’s sold in a blend of conventional diesel. Due to its lower boiling point and viscosity than SVO, auto manufacturers have approved its use.

The Problems of Using Vegetable Oil in Gas Tank

Despite showing promises, experts are concerned about this alternative fuel in terms of efficiency and ecological impacts. Let’s get you up to speed on the debate:

Food or Fuel?

First of all, lands for other crops will fall short to meet the increasing demand for oil-producing crops. Practically, it’s a massive challenge for any agricultural industry to find a balance between the production of food and energy crops.
Besides, using crops for fuel rather than for food seems outrageous with the world’s prevailing hunger problems. This socio-political aspect makes it less acceptable.



This alternative fuel is less toxic and doesn’t produce CO2. Ironically, we will be pulverizing way too many trees to produce biofuel, resulting in CO2 increase. In essence, the ecological impact does not look promising.

Engine Degradation

SVO can contain impurities, which can create troubles for diesel engines. Also, high viscosity causes poor atomization, corrosion for pipelines, and heavy particulate emissions. Without adaptation, engine life depletes for increased carbon deposits inside the engine.

vegetable oil in gas tank
Vegetable oil as fuel can degrade the engine. Source: Advance Auto Parts

Yes, you can transform a diesel engine to alleviate issues with biofuel, but this works only for short-term operation. The truth is, mixing conventional diesel with biofuel gradually increases carbon deposit in the engine, which affects the engine life.

Lacks Cost-effectiveness

Cooking oil as fuel is less efficient than other power sources, such as electricity and traditional gasoline. Less efficiency translates into more expenses. The fuel costs will soar if you want the car running on vegetable oil instead of gasoline or electrical power.

Final Thoughts

Vegetable oil fuel is neither the most efficient nor the most eco-friendly option. However, it has the potential to become one with more research and advanced technologies. If the efficiency increases, we can get fuel that emits fewer greenhouse gases.

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