At Danny's Tire & Auto Repair in Ducktown, Tenn., certified Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen mechanic Robert Aldrich is making biodiesel from used cooking oil he picks up from local restaurants.
The Ocoee River Co-Op lives by the saying "Waste Not, Want Not". The Tennessee company picks up waste cooking oil from local establishments, and then transforms it into fuel for diesel vehicles.
"We collect the oil from the restaurants, and we convert it into biodiesel," Aldrich said.
He said the fuel could be used in any diesel vehicle without voiding the warranty. It can also be mixed with regular diesel fuel with no problems.
"It's frequently used by companies that do business around national forests to reduce pollution," he added.
Aldrich became involved in alternative fuels in 1998, when he first converted his own car to run on straight vegetable oil. Later, he started making biodiesel out of used vegetable oil from local restaurants. He said the use of biodiesel in a vegetable oil conversion vehicle makes for a green vehicle. The biodiesel fuel is used to start the vehicle; then, after a few minutes, the vehicle can be switched to vegetable oil. The scent is similar to that of a hot oil fryer.
"Biodiesel is a renewable American-made product and part of a growing national trend. More and more people are making the decision to go green," he said.
In Aldrich's workshop, Danny's Tire and Auto Repair near Copperhill, he showed the processor used to make biodiesel from vegetable oil. The process is called transesterification, and it separates the glycerin from the fat, leaving behind biodiesel. The methanol can be separated from the glycerin and reused. Glycerin is good for local farmers and even soap makers.
The biodiesel is nontoxic and biodegradable. As Aldrich demonstrated, it can even be drunk in small quantities.
Presently, the cost of biodiesel from the co-op is $3 a gallon, more than a dollar less than the cost at local gas stations. That's despite the fact that biodiesel sellers have to pay extra taxes.
"We have to pay two more taxes, a special privilege tax and a special use tax, than people who sell petro diesel," he said.
Aldrich collects used cooking oil and delivers biodiesel in Blue Ridge and McCaysville in Georgia and Ducktown and Copperhill in Tennessee .
He said that he will pick up used vegetable oil for free from suppliers who call him at 423-241-3125.
"We deliver biodiesel in 55-gallon drums or 250-gallon totes," he said.
He added that it's safe to store biodiesel, because it's much less flammable than regular diesel fuel.
"It only makes sense for everybody. It benefits the environment. We sell a cheaper fuel. It supports the local economy," he said.