Biofuels

From evil to Earth-friendly: converting a diesel generator to biofuels

Diesel generators can be nasty things. Older models not equipped with air filters and catalytic converters can spew huge amounts of pollution into the air. In places like California’s Central Valley, older diesel generators still provide power to irrigate farmland.

The Environmental Protection Agency is taking action by working to replacing old pumps, but many diesel generators are still kept on hand in case of a power outage. Luckily, there is a solution at hand to decrease pollution from these diesel generators immediately: biofuels.

Converting a generator to run on biofuels is relatively easy as well; with some changes to basic parts, a diesel generator can be converted to run on most types of biofuel. Pair it with a pick from any number of environmentally-safe plastic bunded fuel tanks, and an earth-friendly power system is in place.

Getting started

Biofuels are made from a number of sources such as vegetable oil, cellulose, and recycled cooking grease. The first diesel engine was designed to run on peanut oil. Many companies sell conversion kits for diesel generators; once installed, the generator can usually run on one of three fuels: diesel, biodiesel, or even vegetable oil.

When using a retrofitted diesel generator, you have two choices in biofuels: biodiesel or straight vegetable oil. Biodiesel will run in any diesel engine; SVO requires more care. Because of SVO being thicker than diesel fuel, a secondary fuel system is used to start the generator on diesel fuel and then switch over once the vegetable oil has been heated to a proper temperature.

Possible Fuel Problems and How to Deal with Them

If you choose to produce your own biofuel, keep in mind that it needs to be filtered thoroughly. However, the biggest hazard for SVO is not filtration; the acid content of the SVO tends to be what causes the most problems for generators during operation. Although most food-grade oil is high-quality, the amount of free fatty acids (FFA) in it determines how acidic the oil is. A titration test will let you know just how acidic your oil is and whether or not your oil needs to be jettisoned before it will be usable. Coincidentally, this test also happens to be the same test you’d use to check your biodiesel for water.

Cooler temperatures can also affect an engine running on biofuels. Biodiesel tends to turn into slush at 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius) and needs to be heated before starting. SVO has an even higher gel point, but there are anti-gel products that can be added to both biodiesel and SVO. In any case, neither fuel should be left in the tank after six months, as that’s when they begin to break down.

In any case, neither fuel should be left in the tank after six months, as they begin to break down. Care should also be taken to ensure that no spillage takes place, and you should watch for any corrosion of rubber seals or grommets. Check for environmentally-friendly companies that manufacture plastic bunded fuel tanks and make sure that if your generator is pre-1994 that your fuel lines and seals are replaced with up-to-date synthetic rubber products.

There are many things to remember when converting a generator to biofuels, but once begun the process becomes much easier. With careful work, even an old generator can become an environmental ally.

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