Alternative fuel project to power student presentation

imageAs gas prices top $2 per gallon, SUNY Oswego student Dan Flanagan runs his car on a cheaper alternative—previously used vegetable oil he receives for free from Chinese restaurants. He will discuss this project and process during the college’s Quest symposium at 1 p.m. April 20 in Room 103 of Lanigan Hall.

A junior technology major from High Falls, Flanagan turned the alternative fuel experiment into an independent study project under Professor Thomas Kubicki.

“It’s really economical and good for the environment,” he said of running the 1981 Mercedes 300D, normally powered by diesel, on vegetable oil. “I think it produces about 70 percent less emissions.”

Flanagan had heard about other cars using this fueling method and began researching it on the Internet. Many users buy kits for the conversion, but he ended up making his from scratch—sometimes by trial and error.

Although it took longer, “I learned a lot more by not buying a kit,” Flanagan said. “I had to do a lot more research instead of following directions.”

He spent a lot of weekends trekking home to work on the vehicle, sometimes with his friend Bob Hogan, also a junior technology major. “We’re big car guys,” he noted. “We just kept plugging away at it.”

Getting fuel is as simple as asking Chinese restaurants for discarded vegetable oil they have used in their fryers. A filtering process strains it down until the particles are small—less than five microns in size.

Flanagan improvised a large beverage cooler, placed in the trunk, as his fuel tank. “Because the cooler is already insulated, it keeps the heat in for a long time,” he explained, and keeps the oil from growing cold and thickening.

While a nationwide switch to vegetable oil as an automotive fuel is not necessarily on the horizon—“As many people could do it as there are gallons produced by the restaurants,” he said—Flanagan did meet others using this process. One man is even considering creating a fueling station to meet potential need.

Some hitches remain. A few weeks before Quest, Flanagan was still working on enhancing the filtering system. He also has to start the car on diesel and let it warm up before switching to vegetable oil.

But he said the benefits are apparent, both educationally and economically. “I just bought diesel at $2.50 per gallon,” he said. “The other fuel I can get for free.”

For information on this and 140 other Quest presentations, visit

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PHOTO CAPTION: Alternative fuel—Junior technology major Dan Flanagan shows a filter he installed as part of a project to run his 1981 Mercedes 300D from used vegetable oil discarded by Chinese restaurants. His independent-study project this semester involved making the car able to convert from diesel to the alternative fuel. Flanagan will explain the process and project at Quest.

(Posted: Apr 01, 2005)