You're on a road trip and do the drive-through at McDonalds in your newly-converted Deep Fried Ride. You give a young lady your order. “I'll take a Big Mac, some fries, a strawberry shake and 25 gallons of waste oil for Old Betsy, please.”
After you get your burger and fries, you drive around to the back of the restaurant, hook up to the waste oil tank and fill up a dedicated tank in your automobile.
When the time is right, you flip a button under your dashboard and your engine starts running on the waste grease. Soon you're headed down the freeway again, a delicious-smelling plume of French fry aroma in your wake. Destination — perhaps a Burger King in Batesville?
How's that for thinking out of the box?
Such a scenario is not completely out of the question, according to Andrew Couch, who has thought outside the box so long, he's probably forgotten how to get back in.
Couch started Deep Fried Rides a few years ago to help people run waste vegetable oil in their biodiesel and diesel engines. Waste vegetable oil will run in diesel engines provided it's clean and has the proper viscosity, or thickness. In a biodiesel plant, waste vegetable oil has its viscosity lowered through the removal of glycerin.
But Couch's Deep Fried Rides offers another solution.
“We outfit diesel engines with auxiliary fuel systems that allow them to run on straight vegetable oil. Essentially, you have two separate fuel systems. You start up your vehicle on diesel or biodiesel. As the engine heats up, your vegetable oil fuel system is heated with exhaust heat from the radiator.
“Basically, you outfit the vehicle with heat exchangers that break down the viscosity of the oil.
“Once you get up to operating temperature, you pull the switch and you stop burning diesel or biodiesel and start burning waste vegetable oil that has been filtered and dewatered.
“When you arrive at your destination, you switch back to diesel or biodiesel to push all the grease out of the line and shut down the engine.”
The system is not for everybody, stresses Couch. “Vehicles are not designed to run on it. And pouring straight vegetable oil into a diesel engine could create terrible problems because of the oil's high viscosity. You're also sacrificing optimal vehicle performance for feasible fueling.
“But the system does work and we have hundreds of thousands of miles logged on these vehicles all over the country. A variety of vehicles are using it and using it well. And it does draw attention to the fact that there are options out there for drivers.”
Couch, who sold 90 percent of the business three weeks ago, picks up oil from about 10 restaurants around Memphis. He says one restaurant he services supplies as much as 250 gallons of waste grease per month.
The number of participating restaurants is increasing all the time.
“We are the dedicated waste oil removal service for all these restaurants,” he says. “We bring it back to the shop for filtering and dewatering. People come to Deep Fried Rides to fill up.”
But customers could theoretically fill up wherever there was available waste oil, according to Couch. “Around the country, there are people who offer on-board filtration set ups where you really can go up to a fast food restaurant and ask if you can go around back and suck out the waste grease.”
While Deep Fried Rides is not the single answer to America's energy crisis and the high cost of fuel, it goes to show that solutions must involve the best way to use — and reuse — our resources.
It might not be long before you hear yourself saying, “I'd like a burger and fries for me and all the grease you got for Old Betsy — hold the buns, condiments and meat, please.”