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.