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Product review: Diesel Secret Energy remains an unproven alternative to traditional biodiesel

Tuesday, April 11, 2006 by: Ben Kage
Tags: biodiesel, gas prices, health news

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Although gasoline prices have slowed their meteoric rise in the past few months, they still show no sign of stopping or reversing. Diesel prices are especially high, so it is no surprise that the scramble for cheap and clean fuel alternatives is still on, and the word "biodiesel" is on many people's lips. However, an upstart alternative company is raising ire among many biodiesel veterans.

Diesel Secret Energy, LLC recently unveiled its product, also called Diesel Secret Energy (or DSE), to the American public. The DSE product (valued at $12.99, but shipped to the customer, along with the how-to manual and video, for free; just pay the $10 shipping per bottle) is used in conjunction with certain chemicals and a homemade mixing/pumping station to thin and clean used cooking oils. DSE encourages you to offer disposal of used cooking oils to local restaurants in order to obtain it for free.

The website, www.dieselsecret.com touts the product as a cheaper and safer alternative to traditional biodiesel, but many internet-savvy biodiesel users are blasting DSE, calling it a "snake oil." A primary complaint about DSE is not even about its product. Veteran posters (and biodiesel users) to the many biodiesel forums found across the internet complain that DSE is simply selling a product that chemically thins waste vegetable oil through a process that is freely available to the public with just a minimum of internet research.

Traditional biodiesel vs. DSE

Traditional biodiesel is a fuel (specifically for diesel-powered vehicles, obviously) that is usually made from products such as straight vegetable oil (SVO) or waste vegetable oil (WVO), and requires a certain amount of processing to be usable in a standard diesel vehicle. The chemicals used in this process can be harmful, which is ostensibly the reason Diesel Secret Energy offers its product as a superior alternative. Biodiesel thins out (and cleans) SVO and WVO through a process involving a catalyst and an alcohol (usually Methanol). Methanol is a very dangerous substance -- as illustrated at methanol.org's website -- which is why DSE is ostensibly a safer alternative, even though they will not list their product's ingredients.

This, then, is one of the first major points of contention one will find if researching DSE on the internet. Some diesel drivers, such as those who post regularly on the Infopop message board, have been using SVO or WVO biofuels for a while, and some have even tried DSE for themselves. Two of the main active ingredients in DSE were found to be xylene and naphthalene, the latter of which is commonly used in mothballs. Xylene, while less dangerous than methanol, is still a dangerous chemical, and equally stringent safety precautions should be taken while working with it.

Although safety is supposedly a primary selling point of DSE, Diesel Secret Energy's manual calls for a cost-effective Wal-Mart garbage can as the user's mixing station. Mixing chemicals in a plastic garbage can cannot honestly be called a safe practice. However, the garbage cans are cheap, and DSE's other main selling point is the inexpensiveness of the product. The company knows that most people will come across it because they are looking for a cheaper alternative to petro-diesel. Even the assertions of big savings do not stand up to the scrutiny of the biodiesel veterans, as many claim that their setup is as cheap or cheaper than Diesel Secret Energy's proposed mixing system.

Heat-less biodiesel?

Another way Diesel Secret Energy claims to save you money is that its product can theoretically work in any diesel engine without heating. Heating is key when using SVO and WVO, because they have a much higher viscocity (thickness) than petro-diesel, and therefore require heating in order to be properly atomized for combustion by the engine. This is why some SVO users either convert their diesel to a two-tank system (one tank contains petro-diesel to start and run the engine while the SVO heats up, while the other tank contains the SVO) or a professionally created and installed single-tank system.

This is a very expensive procedure (a point Diesel Secret Energy is quick to make), but as Journey to Forever's authors point out, the more people attempt to use SVO systems, the more car manufacturers will sit up and take note. As heated SVO systems become more popular, they will become cheaper. The supposed advantage of DSE is that, since it is specifically made to thin the WVO, it requires no heating to work. Those who have tested the product's resistance to cold temperatures disagree, saying it gels pretty easily at low temperatures. Diesel Secret Energy's cure for this dilemma is to add more chemicals, but this seems to just be an attempt to avoid having to heat the product, which would seemingly make it just like (and possibly as expensive as) standard biodiesel.

It should be noted that Diesel Secret Energy, LCC simultaneously claims its DSE product is not a biodiesel, and that it is a "true biodiesel." The reason for this, as described on the company's website, is that, although its additive produces the same result as biodiesel, it is theoretically cheaper and less dangerous than the chemicals and materials used in biodiesel processing. It is supposedly a true biodiesel, according to the website, because it is closer to what Rudolph Diesel himself used in his original diesel engine.

History of diesel and biodiesel

Rudolph Diesel unveiled his engine at the 1900 World's Fair, running it on peanut oil. Diesel's intention was to create an engine that could be cheaply utilized by farmers, who could then make their own fuel from their crops. As fuel manufacturers developed cheap fossil fuels, Diesel's invention was relegated to second place behind standard gasoline engines. Although the more reliable and fuel-efficient diesel engines are still in wide use today -- especially in vehicles that require high levels of power and frequent use -- the fuel used in these machines is definitely not peanut oil, and the emissions created by petro-diesel have a severe impact on the environment.

Although biodiesel is widely accepted as a much cleaner alternative fuel, Diesel Secret Energy scantily covers information concerning the hygiene of its product. The website states, "Depending on the vehicle, [its] general condition, etc, the fuel made with our system produces emissions that are significantly less than petroleum diesel and two-to-four percent higher than biodiesel. This is due to the fact that our fuel is 87 percent pure vegetable oil, [which gives it] a significant advantage over petroleum and [is] a small tradeoff against bio-diesel for the benefit of easier and safer manufacture."

DSE concerns and possible risks

One red flag about DSE and its website is the complete lack of testing data, and the inadequate excuse for not performing those tests: "A true 'study' would require at least 100 engines being tested as a control group and another 100 as the test group. [A] control group would be given petroleum diesel, the test group [would be given] our fuel. After six months to three years, the engines would need to be stripped down and inspected for differences in wear. We do not have the capital to do such a study. Rather, we trust our diesel experts who have real world experience with this type of fuel in America and Germany over decades dating back to post WWII. While it may not convince everyone as much as numbers on paper and charts, we tried it and were immediately sold. Now we are believers too." No chance of bias there, then. If DSE's makers were to argue that they do not want to pay for such a test, as it would increase the cost of their product, it seems reasonable to assume that customers would be willing to shell out some extra money for a "piece of paper" that shows just how much risk is posed to their significant investment.

This is just the risk that biodiesel veterans are concerned about. The general consensus of those who are "in the know" is that DSE stands to "coke" up the fuel injectors pretty quickly, which will cause a domino effect in the engine, which could, in turn, render the engine useless.

Although we at NewsTarget have not been able to try a sample of DSE -- requests for a sample were not answered -- the evidence seems to all point to one answer: There is not enough information yet. Even if DSE does work, with no long-term test results available, there is no way to know how DSE will affect a diesel engine in the future. The aggressive advertising points to this product possibly being too good to be true, and is a common tactic of people who want to sell a product quickly before a market collapses. DSE's response as to why this technology is not mainstream, or has not been seen before today is because it saw most of its widespread use in Europe, spurred on by Europe's gas prices, which are much higher than the U.S. Truly, the only real way to test the effectiveness of this product would be to try it yourself, but unless you have an old diesel engine that you are not relying on, taking this leap could be risky.

If you want to begin using an alternative fuel in your diesel vehicle (at which point you should check your state laws to see what taxes are applicable to you, and also go to biodieselcommunity.org for more information), it would seem that the more established biodiesel techniques are the safest ways to go. Although biodiesel too is still in its infancy, it has been around long enough for there to be veteran users who swear by it, and whose vehicles run smoothly on it every day. The DSE product appears to be an opportunistic pounce on people who want to save the money they are pumping into their cars, but without actually having to go through the admittedly long, potentially dangerous and arduous process of researching biodiesel and processing the fuel for use. Unfortunately here, as in many other cases, there is no such thing as a free ride, even on diesel power.

Note: Neither this author nor Truth Publishing was paid anything by the company mentioned here to write this product review. Read our Declaration of Journalistic Independence to learn how we adhere to a higher ethical standard than most newspapers, magazines and online media.

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