Electric vehicle fast chargers powered by free waste vegetable oil from roadhouse fryers could provide a cost-effective way of connecting remote locations for electric cars, says a Perth engineer who has invested a substantial amount of personal funds to do just that.
It’s no secret that driving west of Adelaide in an electric car is still something of a challenge, despite trailblazing examples of long-distance circumnavigation by EV road trip pioneers such as Wiebe Wakker and Sylvia Wilson.
And although November’s announcement that the Western Australian government will fund what will become Australia’s longest electric vehicle charging network was welcomed by the EV community, it was a long time coming after a regional EV charging report commissioned by the WA government was delayed by two years.
That delay, combined with the passion of the local WA electric car-driving community, saw one man in particular take the bull by the horns investing some $400,000 of personal funds to ensure charging options for electric car drivers outside Perth and also to support the Gemtek Targa EV racing team which has claimed several wins in recent years.
The story of this considerable outlay for the benefit of those wanting to make sure zero-emissions transport os possible in one of the world’s most sparse regions begins with one of the most controversial stories reported here on The Driven.
As we shared in 2018, retired engineer Jon Edwards and a group of EV drivers set up an electric vehicle charger powered by a diesel generator at his property outside Perth to test if charging from diesel was a viable option to take the load off generators at roadhouses that line the long highways across Western Australia’s deserts.
The testing proved that this was actually greener than one might assume.
But Edwards tells The Driven that after being “hammered on social media”, he decided to look into using biodiesel – that is, waste vegetable oil from roadhouse fryers – to power a stand-alone charging solution instead.
“The first version built was a diesel-driven unit named ChargePod, and I put it up in Jurien Bay at the Caltex for a 6 months trial,” says Edwards.
“It worked well, the EV drivers loved getting 50kW charging halfway to Geraldton, it but it got hammered on social media.”
Edwards says this was fair enough, and so the Biofil was born.
“The next version was Biofil, same idea but running on waste vegetable oil rather than diesel. While still not entirely ideal, it is renewable energy, not fossil fuel, and it is carbon-neutral,” he says.
It works by using two drum waste oil settling system (see below), to give the waste oil sufficient time to settle particulates out.
“Research indicates two weeks settling is enough to run the oil directly into a diesel engine,” says Edwards.
“The roadhouse strains off most of the contaminants, then pours the oil into the drum system. Biofil forces new waste oil to the bottom of the first drum, that makes it settle for nominally 8 weeks then stored in the drum with sight glass, ready for the diesel generator.”
The generator is then used to power an Australian-designed and developed 50kw Tritium Veefil charger to charge visiting electric cars. Edwards says that while diesel produces roughly 3.3kWh of energy per litre, waste vegetable oil creates about 2.8kWh per litre.
“So, to do complete a 50kWh EV charge would take around 18 litres of waste oil,” he says.
“My experience so far is that most EVs charge sessions are around 25kWh or 9 litres of waste oil. The Caltex site at Jurien Bay (where this Biofil is currently located) produces about 55 litres of waste oil per week, or equivalent to about 6 EV charges.
“The beauty of waste oil is that it can be stored during the weeks when no EVs visit, and used up on busy holiday weekends when many EVs visit.”
In addition to the Jurien Bay Biofil skid, Edwards has also funded three other EV charging units.
One is a grid-powered 50kw Veefil unit that he donated to the City of Cockburn on the condition they installed it within view of the apartment where he lives.
Located in the Café strip near the Cockburn train station, he says it has proven to be one of the highest utilised charges in Perth.
Second is the diesel ChargePod that The Driven write about in 2018, which again is a regular 50kw Veefil unit coupled to 75kva diesel generator skid.
“That unit has spent time in Jurien Bay, then a good stint at Arthur River, and it has even gone over to Victoria to support Mercedes EQC performing the Wheel Magazine 2019 car of the year trails,” says Edwards.
The third unit is Biofil 50kw eV charger now permanently installed at Caltex Jurien Bay.
“Fourth is a Biofil 50kw Veefil coupled to 100kva generator kid converted to run on vegetable oil, currently located in my yard awaiting a suitable deployment location,” says Edwards.
It is not insignificant that these chargers have been funded personally by Edwards to the tune of around $200,000.
“The chargers retail around $40,000 and the generators around $25,000 plus the fuel systems – probably not much change out of $200,000 has been spent playing around with these public chargers and at least that again on supporting Targa West Tarmac Rally requirements,” says Edwards (you can read about efforts in regards to the recent Targa West rally here).
What are Edwards views on the news that the WA government will finally fund an EV charging network for Australia’s largest state?
“This is a great start and very much welcomed by the EV community,” he says. “I believe it will open up EV traffic and be good for businesses in regional towns.”
But, he notes, the plan doesn’t connect WA to the Northern Territory or South Australia so he is hoping that the Biofil might close those gaps.
“Every Roadhouse has endless waste cooking oil which is a problem to dispose of,” he says.
He suggests that roadhouses buy Biofil skids, which as they are mobile units can be installed in just 10 minutes with a forklift, on loans which could then convert to government grants as long as they are available to use 90% of the time. Four units would be enough, for example, to connect Norseman in WA to Ceduna in SA.
“It’s a very easy low-cost solution to connect up the EV highways,” says Edwards. “Easy carbon-neutral credits for governments – hurry up.”
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles since 2018. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability. She has participated in podcasts such as Download This Show with Marc Fennell and Shirtloads of Science with Karl Kruszelnicki and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.