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Biodiesel drives inquisitive retiree

Sun., Aug. 5, 2007

LACLEDE, Idaho – Del Brandon figures it costs him less than a penny a mile to drive his 1984 Volkswagen pickup.

About a year ago, the 74-year-old tinkerer, retired heating contractor, bladder cancer survivor and Korean War veteran paid $1,500 for the vehicle with 212,000 miles on it.

He bought the pickup for one reason: He wanted to try making biodiesel to power the rig.

“If you have an inquisitive mind, you have to try it,” he said.

After researching the process on the Internet, the frugal Brandon found – a Web site that explains how to use biodiesel without purchasing an expensive conversion kit for the fuel.

Brandon did not want to spend $1,000 on a conversion kit like his Spokane Veterans Administration doctor did, he said.

Instead, for $12 he bought a bottle of Dieselsecret, spent another $12 for shipping and $200 for filters and pumps to build his own garage mixing station.

The biodiesel takes five ingredients – 1 ounce Dieselsecret, 4 ounces diesel fuel supplement, 5 gallons vegetable oil, 1 quart gasoline, and a half-gallon kerosene. Brandon mixes them, then runs them through a pump, a plain kitchen filter, a second pump, a charcoal filter and then a water block filter. After that, he simply fills the fuel tank.

Dieselsecret estimates it costs 45 cents a gallon for the biodiesel, but Brandon said it costs him even less because he gets his vegetable oil for free and he makes his own version of the Web site’s secret ingredient – a 50-50 mix of mineral spirits and naphtha, a liquid derived from crude oil that’s used as a raw material in the petrochemical industry.

Paying the shipping cost for Dieselsecret ticked off Brandon, who looked at the ingredient list on the front of the container. For what he spends on his own mixture, he gets about three times the amount he paid for the other stuff.

“It’s good for my billfold, and it’s good for the air,” he said. “People need to know they can do this and save money.”

Once a week, Brandon drives to Priest River for a cup of tea at AJ’s Cafe and picks up a container of used oil the owners leave out back for him.

Pleased with the results, Brandon decided to buy his girlfriend, Jean Jones, a 1984 Volkswagen Rabbit with 294,000 miles on it.

She cleans houses in Sandpoint and was spending $150 a month on gas. It now costs about $15 a month to fuel her car. But Brandon had to find another source of vegetable oil for Jones’ car, so he now picks up oil at Audrey’s in Newport.

Brandon said his pickup gets 47 miles to the gallon, while Jean’s car gets 54 mpg or better.

Both Volkswagens are noisy when they start up and while idling, but once they accelerate the clattering dissipates. “There is one drawback to this,” he said. “Your exhaust smells like french fries.”

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