Eagle County woman fuels her car with used fry oil

Amanda Nichols picks up another bucket of used vegetable oil from Benderz Burgers to take home and filter before fueling her 1977 Mercedes with it Friday in Avon
Dominique Taylor | |

EAGLE COUNTY — A local environmentalist is putting her money where her motor is, fueling her car with used fry oil from a local restaurant.

Amanda Nichols drives her 1977 Mercedes 300 D diesel every day between Gypsum and Avon, for her job as the education and outreach director for the Eagle River Watershed Council.

And we’ll answer the obvious questions right away: Yes, she says, sometimes it smells like hamburgers.

“I always think about the bicyclists as I’m going by. They could be smelling diesel fumes, but they’re smelling hamburgers,” Nichols said.

Her Mercedes weighs 3,186 pounds and hasn’t gained an ounce on the fry oil. Sometimes it’d be good to be like that car.

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Fuel source

The Eagle River Watershed Council’s office are above the Northside Café in Avon, where, not so long ago they started selling Benderz Burgers and all the wonderful stuff that goes with them.

The Watershed Council folks are Northside regulars and one day Amanda asked owner Jim Pavelich what he did with his used vegetable oil. It turns out that some company comes around and picks it up, and pays the restaurant a few pennies per gallon.

Amanda asked if she could have some, Pavelich said something like, “Certainly,” and Amanda started using about five gallons a week in her car.

Amanda said she and her boyfriend were looking for diesel trucks that were either converted to run on vegetable oil, or they could convert themselves. When they found the Mercedes, they grabbed it.

It has two tanks. She starts it on the diesel and when it’s warm enough —about five minutes — she switches it to vegetable oil.

“It’s messy and extra work, but it’s very gratifying,” Nichols said.

Fuel science

Daniel Olsen, Ph.D., is a professor with Colorado State University’s mechanical engineering department. He checks out stuff like this all the time, and says Nichols’ setup checks out. It has to be an older diesel, like Nichols’, or a newer diesel that’s been tuned to do this, Olsen said.

“This is great for someone running an older engine. With a newer engine you’ll void the warranty. If you’re outside the warranty and you don’t mind some increased maintenance and you want to try this, go ahead,” Olsen said.

Olsen has been working exclusively in clean energy for more than a decade. There’s more of this than one might imagine.

“Lots of people are using biofuels. A group in Rocky Ford is blending gasoline with vegetable oil. That thins it out and it does not require the two tank system,” Olsen said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or

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