‘El Chaski’ comes from the language Quechua and was an important person in the Incan empire. He was the messenger who delivered messages from one part of the empire to the other. Our modern day Chaski delivers another kind of message, that there are things we can all do to live more sustainably. We are telling the stories of those efforts and projects and sharing them throughout the Americas.
El Chaski is a ’95 Chevy Suburban 6.5L Turbo Diesel 4×4 that has been modified to run on Waste Vegetable Oil (WVO), Straight Vegetable Oil (SVO) and biodiesel as well as regular diesel. It uses a two-tank system. One tank runs on diesel or biodiesel and the other can use any of the above mentioned fuels. The modifications include the custom installation of a 20-gallon second tank, which is heated by hot water from the radiator, and the installation of another inline fuel heater and filter to make sure the oil is hot and clean before combustion.
In our search for the perfect car, there were very few affordable diesel vehicles in the United States that could be converted into a veggie-mobile. We ruled out small cars due to our need to sleep in the car, the Mercedes we considered was tossed out due to difficulty finding cheap parts and our favorite car, the Volkswagen Westfalia, was either too expensive or required too much work to be conditioned for the mission ahead. In the challenging task of finding a cheap, used diesel 4×4 for this transcontinental voyage, the Veggie-Burban was the champion. This gas-guzzler was not our ideal choice initially, but ‘El Chaski’ has proven to be a strong and reliable ride, and given that we are using free WVO it is still affordable, even at 18mpg.
Waste Vegetable Oil (WVO) and Biodiesel
WVO is exactly what the name implies. It is used cooking oil collected from restaurants. We clean or filter this oil to remove particulates and recycle what is otherwise thrown away. This fuel is experimental and we use it because of its ecological and economical benefits. We are, however, fully aware of the potential long-term risks to the engine if used improperly.
We call our journey the ‘Biodiesel Diaries’ because we are using bio-fuel in a diesel engine and because it is more readily understood than WVO. Technically speaking, we are not using biodiesel for the majority of our trip, mostly because it is hard to find and also highly controversial; this is due to industrial biodiesel production, which uses agricultural land to produce crops for bio-fuels. This is particularly harmful to the environment when native forests are cleared for the production of soy or other bio-fuel crops. Others argue this is taking away agricultural land, which is needed to grow food. However, when biodiesel is produced from recycled vegetable oils, this controversy is silenced. The result of this biodiesel or WVO, is a cleaner, often local, renewable fuel. 80-90 percent of the carcinogenic particulates in diesel emissions are eliminated and overall emissions are reduced by 50%. Best of all, no war is required!
The Paint Job
Check out the video, no explanation needed.