In a general sense, any diesel engine can operate on straight vegetable oil (SVO). The problem is that vegetable oil has a much higher viscosity level than diesel fuel and, under normal circumstances, does not share the same combustion properties as diesel fuel. The technical suitability of a vehicle, the condition of the vehicle, the quality of the vegetable oil being used and the conditions the vehicle will be operating in are all important factors in choosing a vehicle to convert from running on diesel to running on vegetable oil. However, most experts recommend using additives, blending the vegetable oil with another fuel or installing an engine conversion kit, regardless of the type of fuel system.
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Indirect Injection vs Direct Injection
Vegetable oil, particularly when it is cold, is prone to clogging fuel injectors, fuel filters and fuel lines and adding build-up in the combustion chamber and other fuel components. The type of fuel injection system a vehicle operates on is one of the most important factors in determining how well its engine can support vegetable oil as a fuel. Diesel engines with indirect injection (IDI) fuel systems, such as those found in 1980s Volkswagens and Mercedez-Benzes, work better than newer vehicles with direct injection (DI) fuel systems because the latter are more sensitive and pressurise fuel into much smaller droplets when injecting it into the combustion chamber. The higher viscosity of vegetable oil makes it more likely to clog these injectors. Manufacturers began introducing DI fuel systems to vehicles in the 1990s and they are currently universal in all diesel engines.
Elsbett, a leading manufacturer of SVO conversion kits, advises that a vehicle must be in excellent working condition before being converted to a SVO fuel system. Particularly, the engine, fuel-injection system and the electrical system must be in good working order. Ideally, owners should check the decompression and injection pressures in the vehicle before installing a conversion system. Also, Elsbett does not guarantee systems for any vehicle that has previously operated on any form of biodiesel.
Because vegetable oil is particularly prone to thickening and caking in colder weather, diesel engines tend to run better with SVO in warmer climates. Likewise, diesel engines run better when using SVO for long-distance driving.
Quality of the SVO
Reviewers warn that the quality of the SVO being used is more important than the types of engine or conversion systems. According to the website, clean, unused SVO makes the best fuel. While filtering SVO that has been used for cooking will remove some contaminants, it cannot remove fatty acids, which will damage the engine in the long run.
Additives and Conversion Systems
There are several additives, fuel blends and filters available to make SVO more suitable for a diesel engine. Lye, diesel fuel, kerosene or biodiesel all blend well with SVO to improve combustibility and decrease damage, but conversion systems are probably the best bet for ensuring optimal performance and engine life. Companies like Elsbett, WOLF Pflanzenoltechnik and VWP sell single-tank and two-tank SVO conversion systems that are compatible with most diesel engines. With two-tank systems, the engine starts with diesel and runs on diesel until the vegetable oil is heated to the proper temperature. Then it switches over to the vegetable oil. Single-tank systems run on the SVO the entire time and begin to heat it as soon as the engine starts. Some systems cannot run with CAV, Lucas, Stanadyne, RotoDiesel or Delphi distributor-injection pumps.
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