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Biodiesel Boating

Increasing boating costs prompt fuel solutions

By Capt. Mel Berman

            While the feds mull over plans to further restrict recreational fishing in the gulf, oil producing nations and the energy industry have done more to keep recreational pressure off grouper than any possible new regulations.  A few years back, most boaters could handle the cost of 100-gallon voyages. But now, most middle income anglers would have a hard time justifying such expenditures an today’s ever increasing fuel costs.  Yet, necessity being the mother of invention, a few innovative diesel boaters came up with a possible solution that has worked for land based vehicles- the use of biodiesel.
            St. Petersburg’s Capt. Joe Macfarlane is one of the more talented offshore skippers here on Florida’s West Coast. As with many of his colleagues, the cost of fuel is gradually eroding his income. So Macfarlane and his father, Capt. Joe Macfarlane Sr., looked into the possibility of using biodiesel- an inexpensive and readily available fuel.
            According to information from the National Biodiesel Board, biodiesel is a domestic, renewable fuel for diesel engines derived from natural oils like soybean oil.  Biodiesel can be used in any concentration with petroleum based diesel fuel in existing diesel engines with little or no modification. Biodiesel is not the same thing as raw vegetable oil.  It is produced by a chemical process which removes the glycerin from the oil.
 “The original intent for diesels was to enable farmers to run their machines with fuel derived from their crops,” said Macfarlane.  “But when oil based diesel was cheap, everyone switched to fossil fuels.”
            Macfarlane actually bought a new diesel powered boat last December so that he could set it up to use vegetable oil for fuel.
            “My dad and I had already figured out how to create the fuel prior to getting the vessel. And now, I’m able to yield enough savings in fuel to make my boat payments.”
            Macfarlane’s 32- foot Sabalo has proven to be a good choice for their experiment.
            “It pushes really easy, its very fuel efficient, and permits using a smaller engine,” he said. “It takes seas very well, and when I fill up the water tank in the bow, it pushes through the waves without any problem.”
            He averages about 2 miles per gallon with either regular or biodiesel.
            “It doesn’t seem to change anything as far as the fuel economy goes, and with a little bit of research on the Internet we found that it actually has better lubrication properties than standard diesel fuel. And of course, it’s much more environmentally friendly.” He said, adding that it’s also been an interesting project for his dad as well.
            Macfarlane uses vegetable oil as the main ingredient, adding a small amount of “octane booster” – which is similar to what one would add to help boost the performance of a gasoline automobile. His mixture includes one to two gallons of standard diesel for every 50 gallons of vegetable oil. Then he uses about 40 to 60 percent of that bio diesel mixture with regular diesel.
            “I’ve never gone over 60 Percent, because when we originally worked out the details of using that fuel. We found that it tends to be a bit thicker in cooler weather,” he said. “We went above 60- percent biodiesel and really didn’t know what would happen. But we discovered that it would start to lose the viscosity of regular diesel fuel so we’ve stayed in the 40-60 ratios and it’s worked out just fine.”
Macfarlane has two 100-gallon tanks on his boat- filling one with the 40-60 percent biodiesel mixture, and the other with straight diesel fuel. With three way valves for his boat’s fuel system, Macfarlane can select either tank in a matter of seconds.
When sitting at the dock, he runs the engine on standard diesel.  Once the boat is up on plane at cruising speed he switches to the biodiesel.
“Then when we arrive at our destination and slow down, I switch it back to the standard fuel,” he said. “When we putter around and do all our fishing and trolling, we’re on standard fuel. Then, when we take off to come home, I switch back to the tank with the biodiesel.”
“On the way in, as we get to the pass and slow down, I’ll switch over to standard diesel from there to the dock,” he said. “We found that after idling on biodiesel for extended periods and then rev it up, the engine expels a cloud of smoke out the exhaust- not huge – but you can tell that there was un-burned vegetable oil. So to eliminate that, we use regular fuel at idle speeds.” There’s also a price difference between biodiesel and regular diesel fuel.
“Well, standard diesel at my dock in John’s Pass runs now at $3.25 per galloon- and I get the vegetable oil almost free.”
Macfarlane said that it costs about 5 to 10 dollars for a 50- gallon barrel.
“Then there’s the expense of actually filtering and making it into the fuel we use – and that’s probably only another 5 to 10 dollars.”
Of course, there have been some initial investments for Macfarlane, like barrels and pumps, not counting his time. “It does take time to go find the vegetable oil and to filter it, but when I have a little bit of time to spare, I think it’s worth it,” he added.
So what does that gallon of bio diesel actually cost Macfarlane?
“Well, not counting my time- probably around 40 cents a gallon. Even adding in my own time, it’s still a great way to save money on fuel,” he responded.
How widely available is the vegetable oil that’s used to make bio diesel?
“It all depends on your situation,” he said. “We get ours from a lot of restaurants, or just places that have fryer vats. We found that smaller restaurants are actually paying somebody to remove their used oil, so we can usually get it almost for free.  Larger establishments will have a much greater quantity on hand, but they’re actually being paid to have it removed and recycled by other companies. So we hooked up with a handful of small mom and pop restaurants, and they can provide us with enough to get about 50-gallons a week.”
What would Macfarlane say to others who might be considering switching to biodiesel?
“Well first of all, the biodiesel has better lubrication properties –so it’s really good for any engine. I know of some who have used engines that had blow-by issues, and it actually sopped the blow-by because it’s a thicker fuel. It helps the engine with less blow-by –and as a result, burns less fuel. It definitely reduces smoke when running – and those are all good things. And best of all, you’re going to save a lot of money by using it.”
Capt. Joe Macfarlane charters out of Madera Beach Florida and can be reached toll free at 1-877-FISH-FLA or go to his web site at http://www.offshorecharternet.com

 

 
 

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5000 92nd St. N Slip #1
St. Petersburg, FL 33708
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