Stu­dent fu­els up with old vege oil


Be­fore Neil MacMil­lan was old enough to drive he was learn­ing about how to run a ve­hi­cle us­ing veg­etable oil.

Brought up walk­ing through the bush with his mum and learn­ing about the flora and fauna, he be­came aware of the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts of his ac­tions at a young age.

MacMil­lan said he was 10 when he first started re­search­ing ways to re­duce his car­bon foot­print, in­clud­ing plans for a plant-pow­ered ve­hi­cle. ‘‘I looked into it and have old sketches of dif­fer­ent ways I could fil­ter the veg­etable oil.’’

The 17-year-old Nel­son Col­lege deputy head boy made his dream a re­al­ity last year, buy­ing a 1993 Toy­ota Hi­ace with a diesel en­gine. He worked clean­ing cars dur­ing the school hol­i­days to save for the van. He asked the kitchen staff at Nel­son Col­lege, where he boards, if he could start col­lect­ing their left­over veg­etable oil.

And he started col­lect­ing old jeans from op-shops to fil­ter the oil.

MacMil­lan said diesel en­gines were de­signed to run on rape­seed oil so he was con­fi­dent that he could use fil­tered veg­etable oil in his van with­out mak­ing any mod­i­fi­ca­tions.

‘‘Every­one was a bit skep­ti­cal that it wouldn’t work, but I jumped straight in to see if it would.

‘‘I was fairly cer­tain that it would work.

‘‘There was a lit­tle bit of a puff of smoke at first, but it was run­ning fine.

‘‘In­stead of the nor­mal, typ­i­cal diesel ex­haust smell, it’s sort of sweet like you’ve just walked into a fish and chip shop.’’

The only mod­i­fi­ca­tion he had to make was adding heat­ing coils along the fuel line to warm up the oil dur­ing the win­ter as it’s more vis­cous than diesel.

MacMil­lan said he was mo­ti­vated by his pas­sion for the en­vi­ron­ment and show­ing oth­ers that it was easy to make sim­ple changes.

‘‘I started think­ing about the fu­ture and how ... I wanted to do my best in lit­tle ways that I could to help things out.

‘‘Back when I was 10 I was think­ing about what I’d say to my grand­chil­dren and chil­dren, and I wanted to tell them I tried my best.’’

He said bio-fu­els were a ‘‘segue’’ into elec­tric ve­hi­cles.

‘‘We need to stop us­ing fos­sil fu­els as soon as we can.’’

MacMil­lan said us­ing veg­etable oil as fuel might seem like a dras­tic step, but ‘‘any­one could do it’’.

‘‘I want to do it to show other peo­ple just how easy it is.’’ He said in the first three months of the year he would have saved about $300 while re­duc­ing car­bon emis­sions.

The van didn’t have as much ‘‘grunt’’ on veg­etable oil, but MacMil­lan said the dif­fer­ence was barely no­tice­able.

MacMil­lan helped to set up the Nel­son Col­lege en­vi­ron­men­tal com­mit­tee last year, help­ing with tree plant­ing, waste man­age­ment and pest and weed con­trol on the school grounds and sur­rounds.

He said he was plan­ning to study en­vi­ron­men­tal science at Vic­to­ria Univer­sity next year.

‘‘I’ve got a pretty op­ti­mistic view of what hu­man­ity’s go­ing to do.

‘‘I’m pretty cer­tain we’re go­ing to start mak­ing some se­ri­ous changes,’’ he said.

‘‘We can’t keep do­ing what we’re do­ing, it won’t last for­ever.

‘‘I see a world where the en­vi­ron­men­tally con­scious peo­ple we have nowa­days is just the nor­mal.’’

Neil MacMil­lan thinks he’s saved close to $300 since con­vert­ing his van to veg­etable oil.

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