Make Your Own Biodiesel Fuel
Do it yourself for about $1 per gallon
As noted in our article, “Biodiesel Benefits, Fueling the Green Revolution,” biodiesel is rapidly becoming a key alternative fuel. Refineries that make biodiesel are popping up all over the country. “The growth of the biodiesel industry is almost staggering,” observes NBB Chief Executive Joe Jobe. “We’re always hearing about how no new petroleum refineries have been built in the United States in 30 years. This is where biodiesel can make a difference. Every plant that goes up is adding fuel refining capacity to our nation’s energy capabilities.”
That’s all fine and good, but here’s the rub: commercially produced biodiesel costs as much or more as conventional, petroleum-based diesel. Granted, biodiesel has many advantages over regular diesel, as highlighted in the “Biodiesel Benefits” article, but what if in addition to that, it also cost less?
Well, actually it can. Several companies make machines that enable you to produce biodiesel in your own garage or workshop on a small scale, about 40 to 100 gallons per day, for as little as 70 cents per gallon. A system typically consists of a couple of plastic tanks with pumps, hoses, valves and filters, along with a weight scale and testing equipment.
To produce diesel, you first have to collect some waste vegetable oil (usually available free) and filter it of any debris. Then its quality has to be evaluated by “titration,” a simple chemical test that determines the amount of lye and methanol required to convert the vegetable oil to biodiesel. (The quantity of chemicals varies depending on the quality of the feedstock oil. If you add more than the required amount of lye, your mixing tank could end up filled with gel-type soap. If you use too little lye, only part of the cooking oil will convert into biodiesel, with a large layer of glycerin settling to the bottom of the mixing tank.)
Once that’s been determined, these two chemicals are carefully mixed together in a sealed container. (The resulting mixture, called sodium methoxide, is caustic, and requires safety precautions such as protective goggles and gloves.)
This solution is then added to a tank of lukewarm vegetable oil (heat speeds the conversion process). After about 30 minutes, glycerin separates out from the oil and is drained off, which can be resold to make soap or as plant fertilizer. (Some companies, such as Cascade Biodiesel, a dealer for the Fuel Meister system, use the glycerin byproduct as fuel for a shop heater.)
Even though the resulting biodiesel is slightly cloudy at this point, it can be burned as fuel in older, simpler types of diesel engines. For a more refined fuel, some systems add another step of “water washing.” This phase employs a mister to spray water into the oil. As the water sinks to the bottom (since oil floats on water), it captures impurities, and is later drained off. Xtreme Biodiesel eliminates this step entirely, however, by using a filtration medium that is commonly found in European biodiesel plants.
Lastly, the biodiesel is then pumped through a water-separator to eliminate any remaining moisture, and to get rid of particles and impurities. Some companies recommend an additional drying stage if water washing is used. The final product is a clean, honey-colored fluid that can be poured directly into your diesel vehicle’s fuel tank.
A couple of caveats, however: For anyone who is considering the production of biodiesel, we would we strongly emphasize the importance of being very safety-conscious about working with potentially hazardous and/or flammable chemicals, and follow all precautions recommended by the machine’s manufacturer.
In addition, while the actual cost to produce a batch of biodiesel can be less than $1 per gallon, don’t forget to factor in the time to process the oil and the cost of the equipment. (Prices range from $2000 to $5000, depending on the quality of the components, filtration system, and speed of processing.) And you’ll also need a way to collect and transport waste oil, a well-ventilated work area, and a method to dispose of the glycerin and wastewater. But for anyone consuming fairly large quantities of diesel, these drawbacks are more than offset by the substantial savings in the cost of producing their own fuel.
National Biodiesel Board, www.biodiesel.org
Xtreme Biodiesel, 888-998-7223, www.xtremebiodiesel.com
Cascade Biodiesel, 503-914-6528
Blue Ridge Biofuels, 828-253-1034, www.blueridgebiofuels.com
send them straight to your Inbox so
you can stay up to date and not
miss a thing!