Green Goddess Columns
Wednesday, 19 March 2008

A common refrain amongst my single girlfriends is where are all the decent men?  This weekend I found out where - in Wales at the Centre for Alternative Technology learning how to make biodiesel fuel.  At a ratio of 3 women to 40 men they should abandon the hairless, over groomed metrosexuals stalking London’s bars and head west immediately.  Ladies, real men are not extinct judging by the hordes seduced from their sheds by the happy thought of making their own fuel from cooking fat.    

The centre is an eco haven set in stunning scenery and is entirely powered by wind turbines and solar power.  It runs fascinating courses on different environmental subjects every weekend.  
Courses are residential but unfortunately my eco conscience didn’t stretch to staying overnight.  After a mouth watering dinner and fortified by delicious gooseberry wine I feebly forwent the slightly threadbare accommodation for my pal Jago’s luxurious farmhouse round the corner.  He has no windmills but a hot bath and tea in bed proved irresistible – he’s just put his pad on the market and the thought of exchanging my urban bolthole for the good life is dangerously tempting.  
The course was run by 2 of the UK’s leading experts in biodiesel, Jon Hallé and Dan Carter, who run a successful plant in Oxford and deliver their biodesel locally.  They now run fascinating and lively courses nationwide to share their expertise
Biodiesel can be made from a variety of substances, but we focused making it from used cooking oil.  It is illegal to throw waste cooking oil down the drains so restaurants usually have to pay to have it taken away.  So what could be more convenient than biodiesel companies taking it off their hands for free?
However making it yourself is not as easy as it sounds.  Oil is reacted with alcohol so it is the same consistency as diesel, a procedure that requires a basic level of chemistry and involves some dangerous chemicals – you really have to know what you’re doing.  But after an afternoon in the workshop my fellow students were undaunted.  
`If you can plumb in a sink you can easily do this’, said one.   I’m as likely to figure out how to plumb in a sink as I am fly to the moon, but for Shed Man the process would be fairly straightforward.
A simpler option is to convert your diesel engine to run on pure cooking oil which will bypass this complicated oil conversion process.   Conversion kits are made by a German company called Elsbett, and cost around £1,200.
The biodiesel movement really took off during the fuel crisis in 2000 when campaigners furtively bought up huge stocks of vegetable oil from Asda in Swansea, at first raising no suspicions.  `We just thought they were doing a lot of frying - healthy eating has not hit Swansea in a big way’, explained the store manager.  
Meanly, this entrepreneurial spirit was nipped in the bud when transport officials caught on and dished out heavy fines.  
Although biodiesel is taxed less than regular diesel the government still needs to offer more incentives to help it become more popular.  
Ultimately it is best to avoid the need for any fuel by living close to work and shopping locally.  However for those who need to drive, buying locally produced biodiesel made from waste cooking oil will cut carbon emissions, slow global warming, support local entrepreneurs and reduce reliance on dwindling petrochemical resources.  
Unfortunately the biodiesel at petrol pumps in the future is likely to have been produced in countries like Brazil by clearing swathes of rain forest to grow soy and palm. 
This could be as environmentally destructive as buying regular petrol but fortunately there are a growing number of small British companies, like Goldenfuels, who are producing their own from waste cooking oil, and who will deliver it to your door. At the same price as regular diesel what’s not to like?  
Contact  for details of their next biodiesel making course.
The Centre for Alternative Technology also run biodiesel courses – 01654 705950  will install Elspett conversion kits so your diesel engine can run on cooking oil.  Black cabs take note!  

Reduce your toxic splash by making your own cleaning products. It’s cheap and easy! directions>