SOUTH African motorists could in the near future drive vehicles that run on cooking oil and peculiarly "smell of fried chips".

SOUTH African motorists could in the near future drive vehicles that run on cooking oil and peculiarly "smell of fried chips".

This will be made possible by the use of biofuel, particularly biodiesel, say enthusiasts.

Biofuel is a form of fuel derived from "recently living" organisms, replacing fossil fuels such as those derived from coal.

It is usually produced using crops such as mielies, sugar beet and sunflower seeds, though the recycling of used cooking oil is the favoured option.

The high sugar or starch content of these crops is used to produce alcohol, which is a major ingredient of fuels such as petrol and diesel.

Escalating petrol prices and electricity tariffs have put the spotlight firmly on alternative energy, emphasising not only cheaper forms of energy but those that are more environmentally sound.

According to Dorah Lebelo, director of the Greenhouse Project, an environmental organisation based in Johannesburg, the production of biodiesel from old cooking oil is an attractive option because it recycles waste material.

"It means finding a use for waste that would otherwise be chucked into drains and be a burden on drainage systems and the environment.

"It also has the potential of creating sustainable businesses for local people. They could produce the fuel and sell it," Lebelo said.

The Greenhouse Project acquired a biodiesel manufacturing machine last year, which it hopes to use to convert used cooking oil into biodiesel.

Lebelo said the organisation collected old cooking oil from catering companies, fast food outlets and street vendors. The biodiesel project had, however, been delayed because of a lack of funding.

She said the organisation would use the biodiesel to run its generators because it has been "off the grid" for two years.

Instead of electricity the building uses solar energy and supplements this natural source of heating and lighting with generators.

Lebelo said the production of biodiesel should not be about boosting large industries or "putting more cars on the roads", but about recycling waste.

She said individuals could produce their own fuel "in their backyards".

She said people who have used biodiesel were impressed by its performance.

"They say it performs as well as diesel but a car running on it gives off emissions that smell like fried chips," Lebelo said.

Colin Crabtree of SatoDiesel, a company that manufactures bio-ethanol, said vehicles that were manufactured later than 1992 could run on biodiesel.

Crabtree said biodiesel and bio-ethanol (a recycled form of petrol) were widely used in countries such as Brazil, the US and Germany.

He said in some countries biodiesel was "gradually introduced" by mixing diesel with biodiesel.