Make your own diesel

Angela and Jay Eckhardt made the diesel that fuels their 1986 Ford pickup, and would like to teach others to do the same. She holds the bi-product of the process, glycerin, while he shows lye used in the process and a bottle of biodiesel fuel (right hand) they made. Dog Hercules watches from pickup. Photo by Elane Dickenson

Self-sufficiency, not politics or profit, is the goal of a Wallowa County couple who are advocating that people bypass the expense of fueling up at the gas pump and making their own diesel fuel out of used cooking oil or fryer grease.

Putting their lifestyle where their mouths are, Jay and Angela Eckhardt recently traded in a gas-powered Jeep Cherokee for a diesel 1986 Ford 4x4 pickup they are now driving everywhere on diesel fuel they make themselves out of food oil donated to the cause by two restaurants in Wallowa.

"Politics is too slow, too divisive and too corrupt," said Angela Eckhardt. The couple has formed Freedom Solutions NW, a new nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people realize more power over their own lives, to be more in control of their own destinies. They are founding board members, along with Nick Weller, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California at San Diego.

"We focus on solutions in real life, ones that people can afford to do at little cost," said Jay Eckhardt.

The Wallowa Diesel Project is Freedom Solutions first project, which the Eckhardt feels will find a good reception in Eastern Oregon where many people drive diesel vehicles.

"We hit on the whole idea about a year ago," said Jay Eckhardt. "This is both new to the world and very old," said Jay Eckhardt. The first diesel fuel was made out of peanut oil and introduced to the world in 1900 by a man named Frederick Diesel, who unveiled a diesel engine at the World Exposition in Paris.

The basic make-it-at-home biodiesel recipe is very simple: to make a five gallon batch of diesel, combine five gallons vegetable oil and one gallon of methanol with a pre-measured amount of lye; let sit, and a layer of glycerin will settle out of the bottom of the mixture; the top layer of liquid is diesel fuel. The only bi-product, glycerin, is a powerful soap.

Of course there are a few other steps, such as filtering used oil and measuring the pH factors, but those are also easily learned.

The "biodiesel" produced can be used as home heating oil or to power a diesel generator to produce electricity as well as fuel for a pickup.

The Eckhardts are in the process of moving the simple laboratory they have been using the last few months in preparing to go public from their property in rural Lostine/Wallowa off Allen Canyon Road to a location off Highway 82 for better access to the public.

They are planning to share their expertise and equipment to help anyone who'd like to know how to make their own diesel fuel. The only cost will be the cost of the lye and the methanol, minor expenses compared to the cost of diesel at the pump.

The Eckhardts point out that restaurants typically collect their used cooking oil in 55 gallon barrels, which is then picked up by a rendering company for processing. They have installed a boom on the back of their Ford pickup to pick up the oil barrels donated to them by Diane's Kitchen and Backwoods Saloon in Wallowa. They will be happy to facilitate collecting oil for others as they are getting started.

Anyone interested in learning more about the cooking oil to diesel project or about Freedom Solutions can leave a voice mail message at 541-519-3910; an e-mail at info@freedomsolutionsnw.org or visit the Web page at www.freedomsolutionsnw.org.

"We are a grassroots movement," said the Eckhardts, whose background includes working for the Portland-based free market think tank Cascade Policy Institute. "What people will get when they come to us is an education on how to do it and why it's important. We are serious in trying to change how America fuels itself."

The couple feels that being able to make diesel fuel will lesson America's dependency on foreign oil and international conflict over oil.

Eventually, Freedom Solution would like to enlist area farmers to grow oil producing crops, such as canola, mustard, soybeans and sunflowers for conversion into biodiesel. That would be a "bigger stage," the Eckhardts admit, but one that supports a domestic industry.

"Biodiesel" is getting to be big business in other parts of the country, for example, in Minnesota where the Soybean Processors company is building a 30 million biodiesel refinery.

However, the couple points out that in most places diesel made out of non petroleum oil being promoted by environmentalists because it burns much cleaner than petroleum diesel, one of many advantages. The cost where it is sold, usually mixed with petrol diesel, is usually just as expensive as regular diesel fuel.

Freedom Solutions has a "wish list" of other projects being worked on or in mind for the future, including a power reclamation project, liberty gardens, an underground Hamm radio network, a "save yourself" campaign that increases reliance on self protection, a freedom lending library network and Freedom Solution NW Trading Cards, "our answer to Pokemon."

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