The best thing about DIY movements is that you do it yourself. This way, we aren’t waiting for some corporation to release a car that gets more than 40 mpg at a decent price. We aren’t waiting for state policy to allow us biofuels at the pump. We aren’t waiting for anything or anyone to tell us we can utilize alternative fuels now—because we’re already doing it ourselves! And because we are the ones doing our own R&D, the end result is always tailor-made, custom-fly to our specific cars and lifestyles. This is how I developed the advanced techniques below for filtering collected waste vegetable oil (WVO) to power my WVO car.
A Better Way
The first two years of filtering WVO for running my 2001 VW TDI Jetta, I knew there must be a better way. I needed an oil-filtering process that required very little space, time and cleanup. This is not what I had with the tripod and filter socks I was using. They left me lookin’ like a mad scientist, all drippy in public parking lots. So in true DIY fashion, I found a better way!
First thing to go was that electric transfer pump I was using to move my grease from container to filter sock, then container to tank. In only two years, that expensive thing’s motor blew and I found a manual hand-crank transfer pump to be the answer to my DIY prayers. Yes, you will have to actually hand-crank your transfer pump, but people, if you have biceps at all, you can do this. It’s really easy. And that $30 pump never blows or breaks or lets you down. I got mine from Harbor Freight. But I’ve see others, like the Tera Pump, available for as little as $19.
Water Filters and Clear Hoses
On the incoming end of the transfer pump, I placed two in-line water filters—the kind pool and hot-tub cleaners use. In the first, I placed a 20-micron filter element and in the second, a five-micron element.
I chose to connect all this “complicated” design work with clear two-inch hose this time, rather than the solid-colored hosing. Clear hose allows me to monitor the flow and quality of my transfer process (which is also now conveniently my filter process) and I really get a kick out of seeing the brown oil go in the 20-micron filter and the golden fuel go into my tank.
The clear hosing also allows me to see the crud that invariably settles to the bottom of the dirty storage container. Every deep fryer, from veggie tofu to Philly cheesesteak, has crud. And as soon as I see a thickness in the collected oil or too much black crud coming through the intake hose, I know it’s time to switch containers for a full one.
Building a Box Filter
Finally, all of this needs to fit in a box to be a box filter. Any medium- to large-sized plastic storage container will do. In the three years that I’ve been using my box filter system, the only component I’ve had to replace is this plastic box—three times, in fact. But as much as I try to avoid purchasing new plastic items at all costs, and don’t appreciate replacing parts on my system, the light weight of plastic and the optional lid really do make plastic an ideal housing for a filtration system.
You’ll need tools, a friend with tools or some MacGyver skills for cutting the holes through your box for insetting the in-line filter and hand-crank transfer components. Make it work the way your trunk requires.
There are only two hints I feel necessary to convey and I highly recommend that you take them to heart:
1) Try to design it so that every potentially dripping edge of the filter system is inside the box. That way, the box collects the drippings instead of your cardboard or asphalt. This will make your life so much easier and it’s achievable with just a small additional effort.
2) Your hand-crank pump could benefit substantially from a secure mechanism on the back side to shore it up. A thin piece of pressboard or plywood will work fine. If you choose to not secure the hand-crank pump, the weight will wear on your plastic outer box and eventually cause a crack—exactly why I had to replace my first outer box several times. Lesson learned. Well worth considering.
For more than three years now, my custom-designed box filter has traveled the United States with me, spontaneously filtering in random parking lots, while keeping the ground, my hands and my trunk’s interior clean, and making me look like I know what I’m doing when the Location Department drivers at Fox studios wanna talk “shop” about diesel engines and alternative fuels. And I really do know what I’m talking about—because I did it myself!