While other vehicle owners struggle to find a spot on the queue for petrol at gas stations, Vishwa Pratap Maskey drives his van past crowds. The shortage doesn't affect him.
No, Maskey's van is not battery powered. He is one of the few Nepalis who actually runs a vehicle on bio-diesel made from plants.
Maskey had bought a van to transport goods for department stores inÂ Jawalakhel to his café in Boudha, but after watching a program on Discovery Channel which showed McDonalds using waste oil to operate its delivery vehicles, Maskey was inspired to experiment with his van.
He imported an oil filter from China for Rs100,000 and used soybeans that were unfit for human consumption because of long storage to make his own bio-diesel. It worked, so he turned to experimenting with waste oil from frying doughnuts and french fries in his restaurant in Boudha to produce bio-diesel to fuel his car.
"It was a big risk. I had to invest a large amount for the oil-filter machine and there was no guarantee that I would succeed," recalls Maskey, "but it went well, bio-diesel has saved me millions and I no longer have to worry about frequent fuel shortages."
Maskey's yellow van carries a 'this vehicle runs on biodiesel' sign and has accumulated more than 20,000 km on the roads of Kathmandu till now.
He had hoped that after seeing his van, more Nepalis would want to also switch to bio-diesel, but Maskey is disappointed that there are few takers. "A policeman tried to confiscate my vehicle once, because it ran on fuel that he had never heard of and thought was illegal," Maskey recalls, laughing.
Maskey says the type of bio-fuel he produces is best for NAE, DI and TDI engines for which he mixes 40 per cent diesel with 60 per cent bio- diesel. A four-cylinder 2 litre engine can run up to 10 km per litre. "If there was a centre where we could collect waste oil from hotels and restaurants throughout the valley, this could turn into a commercially viable venture and even heavy vehicles could start using biodiesel," he says.
Currently 60 per cent of the country's budget is spent on importing oil from India and Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC) finds itself on the brink of bankruptcy. Adulteration and leakage of fuel are rampant and increased power cuts have heightened Nepali's dependence on oil products. Although the government has made some effort to promote bio-fuel since the 1990s, Nepal still relies entirely on NOC.
Says Maskey: "Bio-fuel is not just a fashion statement for ecologists, it makes economic sense too. It is a necessity when fossil diesel is expensive or unavailable."
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