Many developing countries lack adequate energy infrastructure.High petrol fuel costs combine with distribution challenges to further aggravate energy access issues. Yet rugged, low-speed, stationary engines (like the Lister) are widely available throughout much of the developing world.It is very likely that straight vegetable oil (SVO) can be used as a sustainable fuel source in these engines.This fuel can be easily produced on site, by households and communities that could then use the energy generated from the SVO fueled engines.

Though a great deal of research has taken place in recent year on substantially chemically altering vegetable oil to create biodiesel, no formal research has been done to characterize the effects of SVO on these low-speed stationary engines.It is possible that the high viscosity of SVO, as well as other characteristics, may cause excessive wear and tear on the engine, but simple alterations to the engine, such as pre-heating the fuel, may reduce these issues.Further advantages of SVO combustion may include improved emissions characteristics.

Existing Infrastructure and Partnerships:

  • Columbia University has installed a Lister engine lab complete with portable emissions test equipment on site at the NYC campus to support this research.
  • Partnering with an indigenous Ugandan NGO (Pilgrim), Columbia has installed a biofuel field lab in rural Uganda, complete with an engine, SVO preheating kit, biodiesel reactor, and basic test equipment.
  • Manhattan College, City College, and the Ugandan field lab have joined Columbia University in a formal research cooperative called the Biofuel Engine Longevity Test (BELT) in which each participant is performing a 500 hour Lister SVO-preheating longevity test.
  • Nine local and international organizations from the U.S., Europe, Asia, and Africa have participated in an annual conference called Sustainable Power and Research Cooperative (SPaRC) hosted by the Columbia research group.Participants gathered to discuss the role of alternative and sustainable energy systems for international development.