Deep Fried Rides

Posted by Scott Westerman
I-55 Southbound, somewhere in Arkansas. The 2001 VW Jetta hums along at 78 MPH. We’re averaging 39 miles per gallon of my custom blended 20% biodiesel mix. In the trunk is a box containing Justin Carven’s latest Grease Car vegetable oil fuel system and we’re headed to Memphis to get it installed.

This is my second Grease Car. Unsure of the technology and my own mechanical skills, I purchased a well worn 97 Passat for the initial conversion. Everything worked and 10,000 miles later, I decided to upgrade to a newer model.

Getting the grease was easier than I expected. I stumbled across a wonderful restaurant in Port Byron that used canola oil in their fryers. Dianne DeVoss was willing to refill the plastic cubes with the cleanest stuff and discard the sludge. Each Sunday morning, I take 210 pounds of oil to my friends at Fluid Filtration Systems in Durant. While their primary business is constructing equipment that allows industry to recover and reuse hydraulic fluid, they discovered that the technology was perfectly suited for veggie fuel. They create a clear, honey colored liquid gold that sells almost as fast as they can make it.

Browsing Justin’s website, I discovered Deep Fried Rides. It’s the brain child of Andrew Couch, a six-foot-five Memphis native who looks like he could be a ponytailed point guard in the NBA. Melvis turned out to be the closest Grease Car authorized installation location and I thought it would be fun to see how a professional outfit approached the task.

Deep Fried Rides inhabits a nondescript, building in a residential section of midtown Memphis. When you enter, you’re instantly hit with the aroma of far eastern cuisine. Andrew’s oil processing equipment is set up in the center of the building. Two plastic settling tanks feed a heated 55 gallon drum which, connects through a bag filter system to a large, square dispensing tank. An identical biodiesel tank sits next to the veggie gear.

Andrew’s marketing pitch says that you get a professional installation, a full tank of biodiesel and a full tank of grease along with a home cooked catfish dinner. No one has yet taken him up on the catfish offer and since it was St. Patrick’s Day, I suggested we dine where Irish beer was available.

Across the table at the BBQ Shop, Andrew told me about his passion for alternative fuels. He’s lost count of how many conversions he’s done. “Something north of 40″, he says. Lots of V dubs, Mercedes and Ford Power Stroke pickups. Very few come from the neighborhood and most find him through his Internet site:

In addition to his conversion business, Andrew is West Tennessee coordinator for the Clean Cities initiative. He spends a lot of time on the road promoting biodiesel and ethanol. Thanks to the publicity that inevitably comes from an involvement in veggie fuel, he has become one of the go-to guys when the topic piques the interest of the media.

Over dry ribs and Killian’s we discussed the ups and downs of brewing your own biodiesel and the challenge of finding enough veggie oil to meet the growing demand. While Andrew has been successful in signing restaurants to long term recycling contracts, he’s also aware of people who surreptitiously suck oil out of grease traps without permission.

According to a study by Dr. K. Shaine Tyson of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, each year, the US produces enough yellow grease, the commodity term for recycled veggie oil, to make 500 million gallons of biodiesel.. That sounds like a big number, but if the movement takes off, prices could go up. “t’s sometimes tough to keep enough grease in the shop to meet the demand,” Andrew says.

And then there’s the day to day management of a transactional business. Since it’s the most famous of American Irish holidays, Andrew’s two top mechanics may be uncertain participants in my conversion. “You may get installed by the boss,” he joked.

Andrew has an able partner in Shane, who runs the day-to-day at Deep Fried Rides. He showed me the conversion he did on the company pick-up. A custom designed 90 gallon grease tank sits behind the cab. Grease Car has created kits for all sorts of vehicles. If it burns diesel fuel, Justin can convert it.

One of the decisions made when ordering the kit is fuel tank. This time around, I chose an 11 gallon cylindrical that fits neatly into the V Dub’s spare tire well. Yep, the oil has to be stored somewhere and my trade off was trunk space. Aside from that, the rest of the connections are convenient. Justin’s early electronics involved a two switch system, one for going back and forth between diesel and veggie and a second that initiates the purge cycle that sends a small amount of petro through the veggie lines before shutdown. The new iteration uses a single three-way switch which mounts perfectly in the one open port on my dash board. The gauge for the veggie tank fits neatly into the ash tray.

The Grease Car system taps engine coolant to heat a coil that’s inside the grease tank. The nominal operating temperatures are hot enough to thin the grease to the point where it can easily flow through the V Dub’s injectors. Veggie oil is a better lubrication agent and the emissions are significantly lower than petro diesel, so properly filtered and heated grease is theoretically better for your engine.

What about performance? Diesel fuel contains about 138,400 Btus per gallon compared to 132,900 Btu per gallon for soy oil. About 1.04 gallons of soy gets the same work done as a gallon of diesel fuel, so grease is a slightly, but not noticeably less efficient fuel.

Table 1
Comparison of fuel properties

OilViscosity (cS)Cloud point (degrees F)Cetane No.Heat energy (Btu/lb)Weight density (lb/gal)
Soy biodiesel5344517,2607.7
Sunflower biodiesel5344916,3667.3
Canola biodiesel6505417,3907.2
#2 Diesel354719,4947.1

University of Missouri

Watching the work get done at Deep Fried Rides, you get a sense for how Henry Ford must have felt as he constructed his first automobiles by hand. But Steve and Glen, Andrew’s installers, know their stuff. They patiently allow me to watch their artistry at work and the attention to detail is clear. The installation has the polished look of original equipment, right down to the looms that Steve uses to protect the electrical wiring.

The installation takes up the better part of Saturday and the hint of a Spring sunset is in the air as we do our test victory laps. Filled to the brim with peanut oil, I point Grease 2 northbound. Everything works as advertised. Andrew is careful to review every aspect of the system’s operation and the installation manual is kept in the glove box, in case local service guys need to review it later.

As energy prices continue to climb, so does the interest in alternative fuels. Andrew’s five year goal is to help bring biofuels into the mainstream. “Ironically, some of our biggest supporters are oil companies,” he says. “We all have a stake in making this work.”

Hear Scott’s Interview with Andrew Couch>>