Friday, May 17, 2013
Five years ago, Professor Tony Dilernia decided he wanted to make Kingsborough Community College's Green Boat run on vegetable oil. Fuel was very expensive, and he knew that the college cafeteria had a lot of oil left over from cooking French fries. Hundreds of gallons of it—more than it would take to run a whole fleet of boats!
Using vegetable oil as fuel is as old as the diesel engine itself. When Rudolf Diesel designed his engine in the late 19th century, it was used in tractors, which farmers fueled with peanut oil. Today, lots of eco-cars run on vegetable oil. But the company that makes their engines said they wouldn’t work in boats. So, Professor Dilernia and his crew made all the modifications (changes) to the engine on their own. Mostly, this meant figuring out how to warm up the vegetable oil before it’s pumped into the engine. As you’ll learn in the video, this is because vegetable oil becomes thick when it’s cool and can clog up the fuel lines.
But how to do it?
A boat sucks in sea water to cool down its engine. As the engine cools, the water warms up. Normally, this water just gets dumped back into the ocean. But Professor Dilernia knew it was the solution to his problem. He would start his boat engine on diesel fuel. Meanwhile, the warm water that cooled the engine could be diverted (moved) to heat the vegetable oil. Then, with the flip of a switch, the engine would start running on the now-liquidy vegetable oil. Simple and brilliant!