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Norcross man converts car to run on used vegetable oil


By Sheri Kasprzak


NORCROSS — The smell of fried chicken wafts from the tailpipe of Alex McKinney’s Volkswagen.
It’s not the result of some horrible accident involving a KFC. McKinney, an electrical engineer from Cumming, has converted the diesel engine on his car to run on cooking oil.
“Any diesel engine can run on oil,” McKinney said Wednesday. “Lots of people like me have made the conversion in order to make use of renewable resources. Vegetable oil is a renewable resource.”
McKinney, who converted his car to run on used vegetable oil three weeks ago through a kit he purchased on, gets free vegetable oil from restaurants or delis. He’s still running his car on vegetable oil he got three weeks ago from a Kroger store’s deli.
Although he still uses diesel fuel to start the engine, he estimates he uses only a gallon a week. The diesel-fuel start is necessary, McKinney said, because the cooking oil needs to heat up in order to be an efficient fuel. It tends to be too thick when it’s cold, he said.
He traded in his gas-guzzling truck about a month ago.
Part of his motivation to convert the engine to run on oil was rising gas prices. However, on a spiritual level, McKinney, who comes from a Native American background, said the environment is also an important motivation for making the switch.
“My love for the environment is what got me into this,” he said.
His love for his 2-year-old daughter, Hayes, just might have something to do with it as well.
“I want her to be proud of me,” he said. “I don’t want her to say, ‘He’s a great electrical engineer.’ I want her to say he’s doing something for the environment.”
McKinney said he hopes to start his own business, offering technical advice on converting diesel engines to run on oil, or converting them for clients himself.
On Tuesday, former President Jimmy Carter and more than 200 state and industry representatives attended a biodiesel conference in Plains sponsored by the University of Georgia to discuss the feasibility of using waste products like cooking oil, chicken fat and cottonseed or peanut oil for fuel. The use of those products could reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil and cut down on smog-causing automobile emissions.
Biodiesel is the next step McKinney would like to take. That process removes the glycerine from the oil and replaces it with alcohol. After that process is complete, the oil can be used as fuel without using diesel fuel at all.
Even though he was hoping for some “positive” difference in the performance of his car, McKinney said he really can’t tell a difference in the power. The car gets 35 miles to the gallon on local roads and 50 miles to the gallon on the highway.
The only real change he has noticed is the smell of the exhaust.
“The exhaust smells like whatever was cooked in the oil,” McKinney said. “I need to hit up Krispy Kreme. They’ll do great business because the smell will be everywhere.”
For more information on McKinney’s oil-powered car, send e-mail to



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Gwinnett Daily Post/Craig Moore
Alex McKinney’s 1996 Volkswagen has added extra hoses and switches to enable him to run a mixture of diesel to the used vegetable oil. McKinney’s modified car gets around 35 miles per gallon in the city and 50 miles per gallon on the highway.
















































































































Last updated June 7, 2004