Ethan Arpi

In South Africa, Cars Run On Vegetable Oil

OilAh, wouldn?t it be nice to be Venezuelan?? Not only are Venezuelans governed by a coffee guzzling fiend who, at one point, drank twenty-six cups of espresso a day (now, he is down to only sixteen cups), but they also enjoy the lowest gasoline prices in the world.? At 12 cents per gallon, a price low enough to make everyday feel like Friday, gasoline in Caracas, Venezuela’s bustling beachfront capital, is actually cheaper than mineral water.? But don?t pack your bags just yet.? Roy Dibley, a mechanical engineer and social entrepreneur in Cape Town, South Africa, drives a 1980s Mercedes Benz, which is actually cheaper to fill up than any ride in Venezuela.? And if he gets his way, many more people in South Africa will be paying less at the pump than their Venezuelan counterparts.

So how does Mr. Dibley do it?? For one thing, Mr. Dibley has converted his car’s engine to run on vegetable oil, which he collects from restaurants in and around Cape Town.? According to Mr. Dibley, every restaurant that cooks food ends up changing its cooking oil about once a week.? Because all old oil must be thrown out, Mr. Dipley finds that he actually does restaurants a service by collecting their oil and using it to power his car.?Mr. Dipley’s converted enginge was such a boon that he created a marketable prototype, which he first installed in an electrician’s pickup truck.? The prototype was also a success and it soon captured the attention of two venture capitalists.? As Cape Argus, a South African newspaper, reports, ?The success of these prototypes led to the formation of a business partnership between Dibley, Stuart Freedman (based in Britain) and Valentine Lefr?re, an entrepreneur and venture capitalist.?? Together they now design, build and sell conversion kits for diesel engines, which enable them to run on vegetable oil.

It’s hard not to ignore the utopian side of Dibley’s business venture.? But then again, that’s what makes it so attractive in the first place.? “Think of all the farmers, small operators like plumbers, electricians, courier delivery vans and hospitality buses, even army vehicles, who could switch over [to vegetable oil],? Dibley explains.? ?This would save the country a lot of foreign exchange for one thing and help save the environment for another.? And then there are all the jobs you could create by growing soya beans, canola or sunflowers for the oil.? There are also jatropha trees as another option. They grow where only 300 millimetres of rain falls every year, animals don’t eat it and 40 percent of the jatropha bean is pure oil.?

Let’s hope that Mr. Dibley is right about the environmental and economic consequences of his project and wish him luck with his business.? And let’s also keep our fingers crossed that Thabo Mbeki, the President of South Africa, stays away from the espresso.?

For more information, email Mr. Dibley at