When the chips are down, you can call Todd Shirran.
That’s because his taxi runs on vegetable oil — the same oil used in deep fryers at fast-food restaurants.
Shirran collects the buckets of used oil from restaurants such as Mary Brown’s and The Works for free. The restaurants are only too happy to have someone take it off their hands, he said.
He filters it, and uses it to power his modified Dodge Sprinter van.
The result: a van that saves Shirran, of Bonavista, thousands of dollars a month for his taxi/delivery service than runs between St. John’s and Bonavista.
“Finances is the biggest thing,” he said.
“It saves me about $5,000 a month. The environment benefits, but so do I.”
For Shirran, it’s the latest in a series of ventures that cuts his energy costs to practically zero. He has a home furnace that burns used engine oil that he collects from garages.
“Six years now, I haven’t paid a nickel to heat my house,” he said.
“I own another business compound, a hostel, and I have a 52-foot high windmill system over there. That one set me back like $28,000, but it’s quite neat to look at this big huge windmill system outside my building.”
“So I was already into having free electricity, and I was into having free heat. So I was aware that a diesel engine could run off vegetable oil, so I said, damn, I’ll give it a try.”
The engine modification, done a year and a half ago, cost him $5,700. He hasn’t calculated the exact mileage he gets on canola oil, although he knows it’s not as good as diesel.
“My daily run is around 725 kilometres,” he said. “For my 725-kilometre run, on diesel, I’m usually about 80 to 85 litres, and on vegetable oil I’m about 100 to 105 litres. So it’s not much difference.”
And Shirran says he gets just as much power from the chip fat.
The main point, naturally, is that the oil is free while diesel is close to a buck and a half per litre.
Shirran estimates his fuel costs at a dollar per day for the little bit of diesel he uses when he starts the van in the morning before the vegetable oil is warmed up enough to use.
The gasoline-powered van Shirran has, by contrast, costs him between $170-$180 per day.
It’s a big plus for Shirran’s Taxi, a business started in the ’50s by his father, Norman, so much so that he’s planning to add another vegetable
oil-powered vehicle to the business soon.
Another difference — one that could be a positive or a negative, depending on whether you’re hungry or not — his van smells like french fries.
“It do, somewhat,” he said, chuckling.
“It don’t smell like diesel whatsoever. … And every time I hear on the radio gas going up three, four cents. It doesn’t have any effect on me anymore.”