One of these days soon a couple from Chile is going to arrive in Whitehorse, their inter-continental road trip fuelled by vegetable grease from restaurants (see story on page 7).

Restaurants have to pay to dispose of that fryer grease, so it shouldn’t be too hard to get some. With any luck they’ll be able to stock up on enough fryer grease here to propel them further on their mission to showcase the environmental benefits and feasibility of using vegetable oil as a fuel.

Here in Whitehorse Bo and Kathleen Lundgaard know all about it. They have been taking fryer grease home from their own restaurant, Tony’s Pizzeria, and making biodiesel with it for a couple of years.

The Lundgaards say it’s far cheaper than buying regular diesel, the environmental impact of the exhaust is gentler, and it uses a waste product that would otherwise end up in landfill.

They have really embraced a biodiesel-fuelled life: they run their truck and car on it, as well as their oil furnace, their hot water tank, and soon, they’ll be setting up a system to heat their outdoor hot tub and their basement suite with it, too.

It costs them 25 cents per litre to make biodiesel, whereas petroleum diesel sells for about $1.45 per litre.

“One night we were watching ‘Dirty Jobs’ on Discovery Channel and the episode was about biodiesel and Bo thought to himself, ‘I should try and make that,'” Kathleen says.

She says Bo did some research on the internet and figured out all the necessary tanks, hoses and chemicals needed to distill the vegetable fryer oil into biodiesel. They now have a distiller in their garage and produce enough to keep them going through the summer.

In the winter they mix in regular diesel, because biodiesel will start to gel at -5°Celsius.

The vehicle’s fuel system needs to stay warm to be able to run a vehicle on biodiesel through the winter.

“Bo ‘MacGuyvered’ his truck to have a heated fuel tank, fuel lines and fuel filter,” Kathleen says. “But our Volkswagen Golf can only run on biodiesel through the summer at the moment.”

In the early days of experimentation, they warmed up their vehicle on a winter day and drove around town on errands. While on the road, the cold temperatures chilled the fuel lines down, the biodiesel gelled and wouldn’t ignite. The vehicle stalled and they had to have it towed back home.

“It was embarrassing, more than anything,” Kathleen says. “It was like, ‘What? Did you run out of gas?’ No – we’re just trying to save the environment and this is the price we pay.”

To make the biodiesel, Bo collects grease from a few restaurants, strains out the random French fries and other bits, and heats it up in a hot water tank to 120° Fahrenheit. He adds methanol and lye to remove the glycerine, washes it with water to remove the lye, then recaptures as much of the methanol as he can, and evaporates the rest of the water out.

Ta da — Biodiesel at 25 cents per litre.

For Bo, the job started as a challenge, to see if he could do it.

“It’s fun,” he says. “But it’s starting to be like work. However, it’s working to save money.”

For Bo and Kathleen, the mess, the cost of the inputs, and the time spent concocting the brew is worthwhile.

“It’s basically taking something that’s garbage and making it useful,” Bo says.