Running dive boats on biodiesel

Geoff Walton is director of facilities at the Cape Eleuthera Institute and The Island School in the Bahamas. His job is to keep the remote research center’s many projects running smoothly.

“We are working to create a sustainable campus here using the materials that are available to us,” said Walton. To this end, the facility generates much of its own power, has an extensive aquaculture and aquaponics program, and runs all its vehicles on 100 percent biodiesel. An employee collects used cooking oil from local restaurants and Walton’s team processes it onto fuel.

 
Working to create a sustainable campus at the Cape Eleuthera Institute and The Island School in the Bahamas.

Obviously, much of the organization’s research and educational programs focus on marine science so Walton runs a fleet of dive boats on a heavy-duty cycle year round. “We run the boats fully loaded with people and equipment most days twice a day.”

The 28′ dive boats are powered by 1.7 liter Cummins Mercruiser engines running on 100 percent biodiesel. Walton says there is little guidance from manufacturers on the fuel switch. The engines are designed to a specific emissions standard, and engineers are not big on people monkeying around with fuels, even if it significantly reduces emissions.

“There were some problems initially, we blew out a turbo once, and we have had to replace the factory provided O-rings on the valves to account for the slightly different viscosity, but, now we are having no trouble at all, except that we need more power.”

Walton is now looking for a commercial engine that will accommodate the rigorous schedule — and run on cooking oil.

About the author

Kathy Bergren Smith

Kathy Bergren Smith has been a correspondent with WorkBoat since 2002. She is also a writer and photographer for the Port of Baltimore Magazine covering shipping and port activities. Smith, also a noted commercial and fine art photographer, resides in Annapolis, Md.

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