Elsbett in Wisconsin

Tonight’s blog entry is the latest chapter in Elsbett SVO conversions. Piedmont Biofuels’ Elsbett installer, Luc Suer recently traveled to Wisconsin for a workshop and here is his report back:

I want to call in to “Slick and Slack”, a radio show with Taavi McMahon (Slick) and Mike Clark (Slack) of the PrairieFire Biofuel Coop, dedicated to the “veggie vehicle”. I’ve never even heard the show but after hanging out with these nut jobs for a weekend I have reason to believe that the show is like Car Talk on grease in Monty Python style.

I’m on my way home from an Elsbett workshop at PrairieFire Biofuels.
First of all I would thank Taavi McMahon and PrairieFire for their hospitality and should mention that PrairieFire is a wonderful organization with a great staff and a very nice location in Madison, WI.
If you have a chance, go check them out, in person or on the web!

Under Alexander Noack’s expert supervision we installed Elsbett 2-Tank systems on a Dodge Ram/Cummins, a Ford F450/Powerstroke and a Dodge Sprinter 2500. I spent the entire weekend in and under, what is now the nation’s first “Esbettized” Sprinter. This (brand new) van belongs to Chicago’s Field Museum and will be used for educational and promotional purposes.

PrairieFire’s excellent mechanics Jeff Barnhart, Luke Mathews and David Dudley worked on the City of Madison’s F450 and the Dodge truck that belongs to an organic farmer in their region.

I started with planning where all additional components need to be installed, mounted, attached. Here a picture of the space below the brake booster, next to an A/C dryer, front-driver-side of the van.

By the way, I was glad I wasn’t the only coffee fanatic on the crew. Time for coffee. Strong Ethiopian dark roast. Good stuff. Since I hadn’t done a 2-Tank Elsbett installation before I must have looked at the contents of the kit box as well as the inside and under side of the vehicle more than a hundred times before I came to conclusions. And of course Alexander helped a little, too. First thing: just like with the single tank systems, a bracket needs to be made for the heat exchanger. Not so hard. Luke Mathews is an excellent welder. I gave him dimensions, he did the work. Perfect.

His bracket is mounted on the box that the battery sits on, front-driver-side of the engine compartment. Since the, to be installed, second tank will be diesel tank, a new fuel pump for the diesel needs to be placed. We put it right in front of the bracket for the heat exchanger. Also, a single solenoid valve, which we attached to the heat exchanger. Switching between tanks is done with one valve, a 5-way port and a smart fuel line design. The VO tank (original tank) has a return, the diesel doesn’t. It has a loop.

Meanwhile I had started with integrating the heat exchanger into the coolant system and couldn’t help but enjoy the fact that this van was so new that my hands were still clean enough to go get another coffee without having to wash my hands first. With coffee in hand I watched Alexander drill a hole in the exhaust, right behind the turbo, and tap thread to screw the Exhaust Gas Temperature sensor (EGT) in. Once the coolant system was done, temperature sensor in place, Alexander asked me to start running electrical wire.

All wires from new components in the engine compartment need to go to the controller which will be mounted on the dashboard. There’s a very convenient rubber sleeve around all original wiring going through the fire wall, held together with a zip tie. All I had to do was cut the tie and push new wires into the van interior. Wires for fuel gauge sender and diesel fuel pump come from the new tank inside the car and just need to be neatly tucked away under floor panels. These wires also go to the controller. Wires from the original fuel pump need to be re-routed to reach the controller, too. Which leads me to the next step. The original tank has to come down from underneath the vehicle, not so much to get to the pump wires but to get to the end of the fuel return lines inside the tank. Fuel lines and sender are inside a plastic cylinder in the tank that reminded me of the contraption found in VW TDI tanks. The return line is “T’d” inside this cylinder. One end has a nozzle on it, the other end a plastic mesh basket. Under certain circumstances these ends can cause pressure build up in the fuel return, especially with thick or dirty vegetable oil. The pressure can cause a “back wash” of vegetable oil into the engine when the engine is shut off, the vegetable oil can then interact with lubricant with potential engine trouble as a result. Therefore the end of the return line needs a modification to avoid possible pressure build up. We did this by taking the mesh basket off the one end and drilling a small hole just before the nozzle in the other end.

After this the tank can go back in place.
All of this my come across like it happened in a matter of minutes. Not true. During this last step coffee had long gone from my drifting mind. It had been replaced with visions of cold frosty “adult-beverages”. But, no time for that quite yet. First I had to get the drill out to make two neat holes in the bottom of this lovely new vehicle. One for diesel to the engine, one for diesel to the diesel burner, which this van happened to be outfitted with. The new tank will sit right behind the driver seat, holes right next to it. Not difficult. You just want to do it right the first time. While this was going on Alexander had kept himself busy with gathering all new wiring underneath the dash and connecting terminals to wire ends to fit in a multi-pin connector. A hole was drilled in the dashboard to mount the controller. Tucked away under the dash the EGT sensor has it’s own adjustable relay system which needs to be set after test runs have been made. The idea is that when engine load is low and as a result exhaust temperature drops, the system switches back to diesel.

Back under the hood I still needed to run fuel line between heat exchanger, solenoid valve, pump, five-way port, check valve and fuel filter. Most of those were done during the second day, after which we bled the fuel lines and started the engine. It didn’t take much. After cranking a few times it came to life without signs of fuel leaks.

A lot of this process was documented by Field Museum representatives Johanna and Andy. I’m sure that some of it can be seen some time in the near future as part of their “Environmentally Friendly Museum Vehicle” project (to be honest, I don’t know what the name of the project is, but whatever it is, I love the fact that the Field Museum is doing this and I hope many, many, many people will get a chance to check it out).

My final question to Slick and Slack guys is; can the diesel burner be used to generate heat for an espresso maker?

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5 Responses to Elsbett in Wisconsin

  1. tb2 says:

    I am quite happy to read about your exploits installing the SVO system into a Field Museum van. Do you know – was this van going to be the new Soil Adventure Mobile? A few years ago, the old Soil Mobile, with hands-on exhibits & staff were at a suburban nature fair that I had a “biodiesel” display at. The staffers asked me what they could do to make their old van more earth friendly – ie: if they could use biodiesel in it. Sad to say, it was a gas engine, so my next bit of (obvious!) advice was – you need to find a diesel! And, no, an engine swap was not going to be real easy! Well, maybe one day they could get a replacement – how about a Sprinter van with diesel engine, eh?
    So maybe this is an example of an everyday person doing their small bit, to add up to significant changes. Let your Energy Blog continue to be an inspiration for those of us!
    PS – the state IRS’s in Illinois AND Wisconsin have recently been busting SVO’ers over the state fuel tax. You might want to let your contacts at the Field know about that. There are threads in both state fora at http://www.biodieselnow.com , and http://www.tdiclub.com Biodiesel forum.

  2. Elsbett SVO conversions sounds new to me…but it really helps.

    Thank’s to your blog, I am going change my http://www.vdubpartsdirect.com/vw_engineparts.html to become more environmental friendly.

  3. Dos says:

    So biggest question. Where do I get the Elsbett kit in the USA? I want to convert my 2004 Sprinter asap!

  4. Greg Keith says:

    On the Sprinter-Forum, I have seen members posting about installing WVO/SVO conversion kits from Elsbett, Plantdrive, GreaseWorks and Frybrid. I’ve seen one very negative review of the Elsbett kit, and two who claim the Frybrid kit is the best – any opinions here vis-a-vis the Elsbett kit?

    I’ve written a couple of posts about Sprinters using biodiesel on my Sprinter RV blog at http://www.sprinter-rv.com.

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