March 11, 2007 in Nation/World

Chef raids the deep-fat fryer to fuel his diesel-engine car

Steve Grant Hartford Courant

HARTFORD, Conn. – Georges Zidi is the real frugal gourmet.

Zidi is executive chef at the venerable and private Hartford Club, where members dine in style in a Georgian-revival townhouse.

But Zidi lives in Yorktown, in Westchester County, N.Y., and endures a round-trip commute of 180 miles daily to whip up dishes like roasted duck with raspberry sauce.

His gasoline bill was running $700 a month until he discovered he could raid the restaurant’s deep-fat fryer – and the fryers in several restaurants back home, too.

Zidi is among a comparative handful of people who have converted a diesel-engine car or truck to burn vegetable oil. It can be done, and it works, and it can save a lot of money.

“Now I spend a maximum of $80 to $120 a month,” he said.

The chef took his Mercedes sedan to Votech Vegetable Oil Fuel Systems in Mahopac, N.Y., where co-owner Wally Little installed a conversion system that allows Zidi to run on either petroleum diesel fuel or vegetable oil.

There’s a little bit of a hassle involved to burn restaurant waste oils, but not much. Little says the oil must be dewatered and filtered to remove any particles larger than 1 micron. Materials for a home-filtering system are available for less than $200, he said.

Restaurants are happy to give away the tired oil in their fryers because otherwise they would have to pay to get rid of it. Zidi of course has first dibs on the Hartford Club oil.

The only other wrinkle is that a diesel engine does not start well with vegetable oil in winter. Drivers like Zidi start the engine with petroleum diesel fuel and then flip a switch to burn vegetable oil once the engine warms. For that reason, Little says the system is not for people who make a lot of short trips around town. For people with long commutes, however, the system can pay for itself in no time.

Zidi’s conversion cost $2,200. Little said a new proprietary system he is selling and for which he has a patent pending runs $3,000 to $5,000.

“The initial outlay – sure, it hurts,” Little said. “But once you have reached your break-even point, it becomes, ‘Why didn’t I do this years ago?’ ”

As for Zidi, he’s waiting for summer, when he won’t even need the petroleum diesel fuel to start the car. “Then I run free for any miles I have to drive,” he said.

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