From the fryer into the Ford |

From the fryer into the Ford

Photo by Ryan Salm/Sierra SunMark Flatter of Sierra City collects recycled vegetable oil from Dragonfly restaurant in Truckee on Monday to help lower the cost of his commute to Truckee.

When Mark Flatter’s Ford F-250 rumbles to life, it is vegetables almost as much as diesel fuel that spark the pickup’s engine.

For three years Flatter, who works at MWA Architects in Truckee, has been mixing leftover restaurant fryer oil, which he picks up from Dragonfly restaurant next door to his workplace, with traditional diesel to power his truck. The mix has given Flatter a relief from record-high fuel prices ” especially since he makes a 47-mile commute from Sierra City three times per week. It has also allowed him to cut his harmful tailpipe emissions and put a local restaurant waste product to a second use.

“I do this because I kind of believe in doing it,” said Flatter, as he opens the hood of his truck to show the motor. “It helps the environment.”

Three years ago, Flatter walked into Dragonfly and asked owner Billy McCullough if he could use the Pan-Asian restaurant’s used vegetable oil for his Ford.

The idea had germinated from hours of surfing the Internet and conversations with the pioneers of vegetable oil-fueled diesels.

“It was a lot of online research,” Flatter said. “I talked to some people about mixtures and blends.”

McCullough was happy to give the oil away, which had cost him almost $45 a month to dispose of. And he had the perfect high-grade corn and canola oils to burn in a motor.

“It works out well. It goes to a good cause,” McCullough said. “Our oil is fairly clean because most of the things we put in there are natural.”

After his commute home to Sierra City, Flatter begins the mixing ” 40 percent vegetable oil and 60 percent diesel fuel ” that simultaneously cuts fuel costs and carbon monoxide emissions.

“Right now, it is really helping,” said Flatter of the 40 percent reduction in diesel prices he sees. Like gasoline, diesel prices have risen dramatically in the past months.

The oil, which Flatter strains first through a cloth-bag filter, has to be very clean so it doesn’t clog the fuel injectors.

Flatter’s Ford is unmodified, and its performance on the vegetable oil mix is no different than when it runs on pure diesel, he said. The truck can run on pure vegetable oil, he said, although the cold nights can cause the oil to congeal.

“Nothing changes. The performance doesn’t change. The fuel economy doesn’t change,” Flatter said.

After mixing the oil and diesel, Flatter does nothing different than if he ran the vehicle on a traditional fuel.

“That’s the beauty of what I do. I blend it and run,” he said.

Flatter has big plans to perfect and patent an effective oil filter that will keep people from “doing it the hard way like I am doing it now.”

He believes that whatever he can do to encourage more people to stop using fossil fuels, and begin looking to substances such as recycled oils, will eventually make a difference.

“If you get more people doing it, it sure will help,” Flatter said. “I just feel our government isn’t doing enough to get us off petroleum-based oil to look for alternative energy source.”

For McCullough, the opportunity to see his waste oil being recycled in an innovative way is rewarding.

“There are so many wasteful part of the [restaurant] business … that it is nice to see something that is reusable,” McCullough said.

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