Gassing up at home in Columbia City

The rising price of gas over the last couple of years hasn't bothered 51-year-old Lyle Rudensey one bit.

The 16-year Columbia City resident - who taught a Biodiesel Home Brew workshop last Saturday, Jan. 27, at the Greenwood Senior Center, 525 N. 85th St. - is an expert at making his own biodiesel fuel in his detached garage.

He uses the fuel to keep his Volkswagen Jetta wagon running. And Rudensey gets between 40 and 48 miles to the gallon. He estimates the cost of his fuel at 65 cents per gallon.

That's right. In this day of $2.50 per gallon of gas, Rudensey makes his own for a quarter of the cost.

"I use used restaurant vegetable oil," Rudensey explained. He said his fuel comes primarily from Thai, Italian and Chinese restaurants. "My car smells like chop suey."

A positive change

Rudensey said he was inspired by Dan Freeman, who started selling biodiesel fuel about six years ago under the moniker of Dr. Dan's Alternative Fuel Works, in Ballard.

"Thousands of people are making their own fuel. We are all trying to learn to make it better. I talk to people doing this as far away as Australia," Rudensey said.

Rudensey is a complete convert to biodiesel fuel for economic, environmental and political reasons.

"In addition to the savings, it is nontoxic, biodegradable and puts out less pollution than [regular] diesel fuel. It is way, way cleaner," he said, proudly.

"I know someone who took their old Mercedes in for emissions testing [using biodiesel], and it didn't register anything," he related. "And using biodiesel gets you off of the whole petroleum industry grid, too."

There are some city and county regulations if you are going to make your own biodiesel, but, according to Rudensey, there is no law against making your own biodiesel fuel.

"The law is against selling it," he said.

Rudensey added that a biodiesel maker needs a permit if he has more than 5 gallons of methanol (a key ingredient) on his premises.

"I am looking at secondary containers," he said, about storing more methanol.

Spreading the word

His workshops, which Rudensey puts on around the city and county, draw more than environmentalists.

"I had a fire marshal come to one of my classes; he thought it was fine. There are no regulations against making it [safely]," he reaffirmed.

Before he began his own personal biodiesel revolution, Rudensey worked for the University of Washington as a health-outreach worker specializing in visiting middle-schoolers.

"I'm [now] developing this career - giving seminars, teaching workshops at least two or three times a month. I'll also be teaching at most of the community colleges in the area [this year]," he said.

Rudensey starts his workshops by describing what biodiesel is and what it isn't. He talks about the benefits - environmentally and politically - of making and then using one's own biodiesel fuel.

He also points out the drawbacks, which include the possibility of the fuel "gelling" if the vehicle it's used in is exposed to below-freezing temperatures for any extended length of time.

"You need to take precautions if you are going skiing," Rudensey noted.

He also gives students in his classes a chance to make small batches of diesel fuel for themselves.

"People discover that it is just very liberating to make your own fuel. It is one positive thing a person can do," he said.

Biodiesel is not his only environmental success story.

"We've got solar power for the house - 12 solar panels. On [mostly sunny] days when we are not using a lot of power, our solar meter is actually spinning backwards.... We are [then] generating more power than we are using. That's a cool feeling," Rudensey said.

Anyone wishing to to learn more about biodiesel can check out his website at or by calling Rudensey at 354-6802.

Dennis Wilken may be reached via[[In-content Ad]]