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Car that runs on used vegetable oil

By Gardy chacha | January 28th 2015
The Bio Diesel car that is the fast in Kenya taken on 19th November 2014. PHOTO:WILBERFORCE OKWIRI

Gaseous emissions from combusting automobiles have been determined to pose harm to the environment in the long run. Fossil oil, from which car fuel is derived, emits greenhouse gases, something environmentalists around the world have raised their voices about.

It is for this reason that a team of scientists at Technical University of Kenya (Tuk) in Nairobi are excited to unveil the first automobile in Kenya (a tuk tuk) to run on bio-fuel made from used vegetable oil. This ingenious innovation has come up as the result of concerted efforts fostered by eager researchers at the institution.

The tuk tuk runs on diesel, manufactured from used cooking oil, for normal operations.

“This project began in 2012. The aim is to come up with a product that can be used as fuel while at the same time caring for the environment. We noticed that large hotels produced a lot of cooking oil waste and we thought we could put it to use,” says Prof Erick Ogur, the scientist in charge of the project at Tuk.

The institution is currently working in partnership with major hotels in Kenya. Hilton Hotel, its biggest partner, believes in keeping the environment safe for humanity’s sake.

Hilton Hotel and Resorts General Manager Martin Voskamp expressed optimism that the project will provide solutions in “handling waste oil from hotels while at the same time contribute to greener energy sources”.

The hotel provides the researchers at Tuk with used vegetable oil, which is the main substrate used in the bio-diesel. On site at Tuk, various reactor chambers are aligned in a sequence.

The raw material is purified before being reacted with methoxide. What emerges consists of 90 per cent bio-diesel and ten per cent glycerol. This is taken through further processes to realise a clear golden liquid which combusts in the engine to produce mobility.

And one does not need laboratory tests to reveal that the biodiesel is really from cooking oil.

As the tuk tuk speeds off, the familiar smell of chips (French fries) wafts about. It is the smell of relief – especially for those with little tolerance for diesel and petrol.

In 2013, the earth’s surface temperature got warmer by 0.37 degrees Celsius compared to the 20th Century average. Increasing global emissions of carbon dioxide are putting life on the planet at increased risk.

The consequences have so far been felt through melting ice and rising seas.

But is the bio-diesel sustainable in the long run?

“Yes,” says Prof Ogur.

“In the current stage, we cannot say for sure what the profitability of such a venture is but all indications show that it is sustainable within the economy.

Customers can enjoy lower fuel prices thanks to the innovation. That would be good for both the economy and the environment.”

“As Hilton, we are in this project because we believe in taking care of the environment,” Voskamp says. 

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