Sarah Rich

HOW TO: Brew your own biodiesel

by , 09/19/05


If anyone still needed proof that world oil resources are diminishing, staggering gas prices have now confirmed it. Now, even as our wallets grow skinnier and SUV sales drop, I can’t help but wonder how deeply this new reality is penetrating the American psyche.

Proponents of alternative fuel are fervently pursuing a viable, abundant source of fuel that will maintain our mobility without harming the earth. At present, biodiesel is the most available, affordable and easy-to-use alternative to gasoline. It is made out of either used cooking grease or virgin vegetable oil (corn and soy being the most common). The process of refining oil into biodiesel is quite simple, and the resulting fuel can be used in any diesel engine with no modification to the vehicle itself.

Below is a how-to recipe for brewing your own biodiesel. I have compiled it from several sources over the last few years and have followed it myself many times with great success. Read on to learn how you can have a healthier, cheaper, more environmentally-friendly ride.

A DIY GUIDE TO MAKING YOUR OWN BIODIESEL – By Sarah Rich

I bought a 1983 Mercedes 300 Turbo Diesel in 2003 and began running it on biodiesel immediately. The mileage is equivilent to (and sometimes better than) that of regular diesel, the fuel is non-flammable, making travel safer, and I breathe easier in every way knowing that there are no greenhouse gases sprewing out of my tailpipe. On top of the practical benefits, it’s been a thrilling couple of years watching biodiesel move from the fringe to the mainstream, gaining validation from government officials and business trendspotters, and street cred from farmers and truckers.

GETTING BIODIESEL
You don’t have to make biodiesel yourself to use it. I belong to the San Francisco Biofuels Cooperative, a member owned consumer co-op that buys biodiesel in bulk from distributors around California. Biofuel Oasis, a women-owned biodiesel gas station in Berkeley, is also a crucial fueling site and biodiesel resource center for the Bay Area community. There are co-ops, producers and distributors around the nation who sell high-quality biodiesel for anywhere from $2.50-$3.90 per gallon. You can also perform a modification to your car that will allow you to put waste vegetable oil straight into your tank without turning it into biodiesel, making your fuel absolutely free forever. But that is a “how-to” for another day…

MAKING BIODIESEL
While mixing up biodiesel is not much more complicated than baking a cake, it does use methanol and sodium hydroxide or lye, all of which are dangerous substances in their pure form. Wearing safety goggles and rubber gloves is highly recommended, and preparing your first batch under the supervision of someone with experience might be wise. Finally, just as eating badly made cake will cause trouble in your belly, a sub-par batch of biodiesel can do damage to your car. So be sure you’ve got it right before you pour!

The Goal: Chemically speaking, vegetable oil is a tri-glyceride, comprised of a chain of three vegetable molecules and one glycerin molecule. Through the process of making biodiesel, the glycerin is replaced with an alcohol molecule, in this case utilizing methanol. This reaction is called transesterification. If you are exceptionally industrious, you can use the resulting pure glycerin by-product to make soap.

Preparation: To get started, you will need either waste or new vegetable oil. If you want to use waste oil, which supports the reuse aspect of biodiesel production and keeps the process local, you will need to go talk to someone at a nearby restaurant. Generally, restaurant owners are delighted to have you haul away a few gallons or more of their grease, because otherwise they pay a removal service to get rid of it. Some will even pour it into containers you provide so that you don’t have to siphon from their drums. If you aren’t ready to hunt down a supplier, you can buy a jug of oil at the store. But using virgin resources (and the plastic container they come in) is the less eco-friendly route, so for this purpose, we’ll discuss waste vegetable oil (WVO).

Ingredients and Supplies:
1 kitchen blender (that you can never again use for smoothies!)
3 beakers (one 1500ml, one 500ml and one 20ml)
Graduated syringe or eye dropper
A Petri dish
1+ gallons of waste vegetable oil (if you are using various sources, each source will have a different pH, so keep in mind that your findings need to be for a uniform batch)
5 grams Lye (KOH)
1 bottle Isopropyl Alcohol (Rubbing Alcohol)
1 liter Distilled Water
1 bottle Phenolphthalein Solution (pH indicator – available at pool/hot tub suppliers)
1 bottle of methanol (you can also use ethanol)

Step 1 ? Titration: Titration helps determine how much catalyst you must add by indicating the acidity of your oil.

Measure out 1g of lye in your Petri dish. Dissolve into one liter of distilled water. In 20ml beaker, dissolve 1ml of vegetable oil into 10ml of isopropyl alcohol. Swirl or warm very gently to dissolve the oil into alcohol and make the solution clear. Add 2 drops of pH indicator to this mixture and swirl to dissolve. Using your syringe or eye dropper, add 1 ml (only!) of lye solution to the alcohol and oil solution. Continue adding 1 ml at a time, swirling continuously, until it turns hot pink and holds its color for at least ten seconds. The number of milliliters of lye solution used, plus 3.5, equals the number of grams of lye you’ll need per liter of oil.

Step 2 ? Brewing:

Measure out 1 liter of filtered waste vegetable oil in your 1500ml beaker. Measure out 200ml of methanol in your 500ml beaker. Measure the number of grams of lye that you determined during titration in your Petri dish.

Pour methanol into your blender. Add lye. Blend at low speed until fully dissolved. This reaction creates sodium methoxide. Because of rapid evaporation, the rest of the process must be done straightaway. Be careful not to inhale or ingest this stuff!

Pour filtered vegetable oil into sodium methoxide solution in blender and blend for fifteen to twenty minutes. After blending, the mixture must be left alone to settle for at least eight hours, at which point you will have two layers: glycerin on the bottom and biodiesel on top. Both of these substances are non-toxic. The biodiesel goes in your tank, and the glycerin goes in your soap dispenser. You’ve reincarnated grease into two phenomenally useful substances. Amazing!

Whether you make it yourself or buy it, getting on the road with biodiesel is easy. If you already own a diesel vehicle, you can do it today. For more info on biodiesel or to get involved, check out the links below:

www.boulderbiodiesel.com
journeytoforever.org
www.sfbiofuels.org
www.biofueloasis.com
www.schnews.org.uk
www.veggievan.org
Iowa State biodiesel site (if you want nitty-gritty scientific details)
Excellent FAQ on Biodiesel at www.metaefficient.com


Courtesy of Rob Elam

Courtesy of Renegade

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29 Comments

  1. steve1953 April 5, 2013 at 8:25 am

    Hello from South Wales to everyone around the world.I found this site by accident or was it. I found a processor which you might just want to have a look at.The guy ships world wide and is on a special price offer.Heres the URL. http://tinyurl.com/aguuecb
    This url is safe I just had to shthrink it down as the original was massive.This is ideal for the small quantity home producer as it produces smaller quatities than the massive producers. I purchased and have been running my Peugot Partner on Bio for over 6 months now and the current U.K price for diesel is £1.49 so Im glad I purchased as Im using used oil and it’s only costing me just over 50p.What a saving. Go have a look it’s worth it.

  2. dakota December 23, 2007 at 5:49 pm

    Dear reader,
    I would like to ask you a rather easy question.

    I have been researching online and I have seen that their are easier ways to making bio diesel why is your fomula a longer process to make and doing this longer process is it a better quality mixture.

  3. P.Ramesh Kumar November 25, 2007 at 12:11 am

    Hi Sir/Madam

    This is P.Ramesh Kumar from INDIA i need your help,like here in india at Andhra Pradesh i want to start a BIO_DIESEL PLANT can you help me regarding thislike RAW MATERIAL, HOW TO CONVERT IT TO BIO-DIESEL AND PRODUCT Launch in he market,how to approach.Rwa maerial like plants,seeds,and machinery for production of bio diesel. I know Cultivation also. At the same time am an Engg Graduate in Mechanical from ANNA UNIVERSITY Located at Madras. Am presently residing at Hyderabad. I came to know that Bio-Diesel is Enveronmental-Eco and Low cost. As the cost of barrel of Crude-Oil from UAE Countries is raising day to day, so we want to form an Associate in india and launch this product (Bio-Diesel). By this Bio-Diesel we save our EARTH And Environment.

    Please help us in this.

    thanking you
    with regards
    Ramesh Kumar.P
    INDIA

  4. Nitesh Chhabhaiya January 23, 2006 at 2:06 am

    Hello Sir,

    My self is Nitesh Chhabhaiya. I am from India and I am computer network engineer but I am interested for making of biodiesel. Please suggest me how to make it easyly with pure with simple procedure. Alos if posible please give me a your contact no. & Email address so I can contact directly on phone.

    Thanking You,

    Nitesh Chhabhaiya

  5. Mr. Bohdan Miroshnichenko December 17, 2005 at 3:25 pm

    Dear Sirs ! I am writing from Ukraine. I did the sample of my own biodiesel at home as in your recipe. Everything is Ok. But one of my friends adviced me to use not mix og methanole and lye but pure SODIUM METHYLATE (methoxide) (powder). What do you think – will it work ? And How to calculate the dose of this powder ? KInd regards,
    Ukraine

  6. Simon Jordaan + Paul Re... November 22, 2005 at 3:38 pm

    Please send us more info regarding biodiesel production. We’re in South Africa and we would like to find out about initiating such a project.

  7. jim November 13, 2005 at 3:58 am

    do you know of any classes near Owensboro Ky. or Evansville In. Thanks Jim

  8. Franklin Benamburg November 7, 2005 at 9:40 pm

    I will like to know if oil from fish is suitable for the Biodisel transterification reaction?

    Regards and thanks a lot for the wonderfull information post it in the site.

  9. Ben C November 3, 2005 at 2:29 am

    I’m curious to know if making your own bio diesel saves money over buying diesel from the station. I love the idea of mixing your own fuel and the environmental end of things… but I don’t see the point when there are so many other alternative energy sources that also save money. I’d like to hear some thoughts on this. PS- were the north american/Volvo 240 diesels that bad? I’ve heard horror stories…

  10. Sarah October 31, 2005 at 5:06 am

    For those of you in the New York area, there is a training on the fundamentals of biodiesel on December 6 and 7. For more info see: http://www.energyinstitution.org
    You can also request a syllabus for the course at: http://www.energyinstitution.org/Syllabus_info_request_form.htm

  11. Rob Allen October 27, 2005 at 12:53 am

    Would you be willing to tell what parts I need to put this together.

  12. janine October 21, 2005 at 12:11 am

    I have been trying to make biod from wvo for at least four 2 liters test batches and I keep making jelly I need to get this right because I plan on running my boat in bio-D and I know if I can get it right I can convince many of the other local captains to use it in south florida we burn thousands of gallons a week fishing for crab and lobster and I am friends with many charter capt and truckers other people in metal recycling running equip. you get the idea I would like it to spread faster than wildfire I really need help I want to use gallons and do not want to waste methanol anymore Please email me back with any advice on measurements of lye and methanol I know that is most of my problem thank Janine.

  13. FAREED H. ADIL October 17, 2005 at 8:30 am

    I SEEK INFO ON BIODIESEL AND IF A MANUFACTURER SEEKS TO GIVE DEALERSHIP FOR PAKISTAN, CONTACT ME.
    REGARDS,
    FAREED BROTHERS 48 GARDEN BLOCK
    NEW GARDEN TOWN LAHORE 54600
    PAKISTAN
    PH / FAX 92 42 5857011
    MOB 0345-4312985

  14. Aditya Ambatkar October 14, 2005 at 3:35 pm

    great

  15. carlos October 14, 2005 at 2:10 am

    does anybody out there know anything about a company that sells a product called dieselsecrets and does it work?

    They claim you can make it a lot easier with their formula without such a long process

  16. AWS LOUW October 8, 2005 at 3:10 pm

    I am very interested in learning more about biodiesel. Please send me more information.

  17. robert October 6, 2005 at 12:04 pm

    I own a mb 300 sd and would like to know if I can use biodiesel? Also where can I find such fuel in Houston, TX?

  18. Cristopher Banania October 3, 2005 at 2:32 am

    Hello!
    am looking for an alternative power and your surely help me thanks.

  19. Sarah September 28, 2005 at 5:16 pm

    Hi, Nabu,
    The blender process is just to give people a microcosm to do an initial test batch in. Biodiesel is in fact made in large quantities in many parts of the U.S. and the world. Many developing countries, particularly in South America and Africa, are turning to biodiesel production. With diesel vehicles being much more predominant in those areas of the world than in the U.S., this is a great solution to curb air pollution. If you are interested in knowing more about large-scale biodiesel production, check out these articles and sites:

    http://www.planetark.com/dailynewsstory.cfm/newsid/31183/story.htm
    http://www.bluesunbiodiesel.com/
    http://www.greencarcongress.com/2005/05/brazil_opens_an.html
    http://www.greencarcongress.com/2005/02/rollsroyce_fund.html

    You may find helpful links in those to get you even more info. The blender batch is just a way to understand the process on a small scale.

    Thanks for writing.

    Sarah

  20. nabu September 28, 2005 at 11:15 am

    Hi everybody,

    How do you explain that regarding its simplicity of producing and its low cost biodiesel is not (yet?) produced at huge industrial level in the States – or elsewhere…
    It seems to me that using a kitshen-blender is somehow ridiculous given that it existe not relly expensive industrial belenders….I mean the scale of this home-produced biodiesel is of 2 log inferior of one’s real needs
    Cordially
    Nabu

  21. Sarah September 27, 2005 at 10:38 pm

    Hi, Kosh,

    A friend of mine at Boulder Biodiesel, John Bush, gave me a little expert advice in regards to your questions. He recommends checking out this thesis from Iowa State at:

    http://www.me.iastate.edu/biodiesel/Technical%20Papers/Theses_link.htm

    And also gave a little summary and explanation, which I’m quoting below:

    “Isopropyl esters are more ideal than methyl esters due to their lowered gelling
    points and higher volumetric yields. Processing isopropanol would be great too
    since it is less hazardous than methanol.

    Probably the biggest reasons it is not commonly used is cost and because it is
    less forgiving in the reaction. You probably cannot use “crud grade”
    isopropanol. It would need to be completely free of water.

    To make biodiesel from it you probably will need oil with less than 1% FFA to
    start (or pretreat the oil with sulfuric acid and methanol), and lots and lots
    of anhydrous isopropanol. In the study done by Mr. Wang, they used a 20:1 molar
    ratio I think. The molecular weight of isopropanol is twice that of methanol,
    of which you typically use in a 6:1 molar ratio. So I guess that would mean
    that it would take about 6 times as much isopropanol as you would use methanol
    to process the same amount of oil. Plus, you would need potassium or sodium
    isopropoxide. Probably could not use dry catalyst due to water production, so
    you’d have to order this from a chemical supplier. All of this would be much
    more expensive and time consuming than using methanol to produce.”

    Thanks for your feedback and participation, Kosh! And thanks, John, for your expertise!

  22. Kosh September 25, 2005 at 8:02 pm

    I like the simplicity of your explanation on how to convert used cooking oil to biodiesel. I hesitate to complicate matters by interjecting all kinds of other things, but these questions might lead to answers that will streamline one’s production processes.

    We’re using Methanol (MeOH or ethanol (EtOH) as a reagent, but ispropyl alcohol (IPA) as a solvent for titration. Would it not be simpler to use on alcohol for all operations? I suspect that crud-grade IPA is probably cheaper than the others. I don’t know how it will alter the reaction process, since you’ll be making sodium ISO-propoxide in the blender, not soduium METHoxide. You might end up with a diesel that’s considered in the “lighter sweeter” spectrum of fuel when compared with the product you show how to produce. ON the other hand, it might not work at all. I just thought it might be prudent to use as few different chemicals in the production process as possible. Among other things, IPA is a LITTLE BIT more forgiving of how it’s handled than methanol, especoially by amateurs in p;roximity to flame and spark sources. I lok forward to reading your thoughts on the matter.

    Cordially,

    Kosh

  23. Cassie September 23, 2005 at 2:53 am

    Nice work Sarah! You are doing a wonderful job showing that biodiesel brewing is much less complicated or overwhelming than it is often made out to be. Your article is a great introduction to making liter batches, and it seems that your descriptions are perfectly comprehensive for brewing to this scale. Once somebody decides to increase production, then it makes sense to do more research, but you did not skip any important steps for liter batches.
    One important note: The glycerin byproduct contains methanol, which is toxic to people. I do use glycerin waste for soap, but it has gone through a treatment to remove as much methanol as possible. There are many possible ways to remove the methanol, and I would suggest that homebrewers do a bit of research before they lather up.
    Great work! Thanks for spreading the word!

  24. Sarah September 22, 2005 at 6:35 pm

    Hi, Jer,

    Thanks for taking the time to write so much feedback. In response to your first point, I have gotten the exact same mileage over the past 2 years running on B100 (100% biodiesel) as when I’ve had to put in tanks of regular diesel due to being away from access to biodiesel. This includes both city and highway driving. I am in a co-op of approximately 35 people, most of whom report to have equal or better mileage, though of course this depends on many factors, including age and model of car, and climate. There are reports that the cars get a bit less power on biodiesel (one reason that municipal bus fleets in San Francisco haven’t made the conversion, since climbing SF hills with compromised power is a safety concern. My car flies right up them, though, even on B100.)

    As for the instructions for producing biodiesel, I have utilized this exact recipe at least 3 times, and have had success with the result. Each time, the waste oil I have used has been supplied by someone else and has been pre-filtered, which is likely why I omitted the details of the filtering process. I don’t have on hand the exact measurement, but I know that the filter is some kind of fine metal mesh available at hardward stores. I can look into the specifics.

    I have written “how-to’s” for making biodiesel in the past, and each time I am careful to explain that this is a broad overview, and that those who intend to actually attempt to do this should do so under the supervision of someone with experience. It’s my intention to have people know that this is a process anyone can do, but to get too terribly technical here defeats that purpose to some extent. Perhaps my initial disclaimer should have been a bit stronger: this recipe is general; the actual execution of the process should be done with great care and preliminary research.

    As for the chemistry details, I was trying to give a mental picture of the molecule, but I am admittedly no chemist. I will try to get a more specific description and post it later today.

    Thanks again for your comments.

    Sarah

  25. Jer September 22, 2005 at 10:21 am

    It’s great that you’re posting about this–very good information to make public. However, I have a couple concerns that you paint an overly rosy picture. You have to paint an accurate picture, or people will backlash when they find it isn’t true…

    First, you say that biodiesel gets as good or better mileage than normal diesel. This isn’t true. You get about 5% less mileage than running on petro-diesel. (I know, I run on 100% biodiesel.)

    Second, yur directions for making biodiesel are a bit rough–you don’t talk about what to filter with, and although I’ve never made my own fuel, comparing your directions with the Utah Biodiesel Co-op ( http://www.utahbiodiesel.org/biodiesel_making.html ), it looks like you skipped some important steps.

    Third, your descriptions of the chemistry leave something to be desired: talking about “three vegetable molecules” and not distinguishing sodium hydroxide from potassium hydroxide. But good that you mentioned biodiesel is non-toxic.

    If making biodiesel really is as easy as you describe, that’s great. How do you test its quality, to avoid ruining your engine?

  26. max September 22, 2005 at 1:49 am

    If anyone is interested in self-sustaining biodiesel processors developed for implementation in the developing world, check out http://www.bioleco.net. We are working on medium-scale processors that are fully powered by diesel generators running (you guessed it) biodiesel.

  27. Sarah September 20, 2005 at 4:31 am

    Thanks for pointing that out, Adrien. For the sake of simplicity, I have removed all chemical abbreviations and inserted lye.

  28. Adrien Cote September 20, 2005 at 3:56 am

    I think the information you provide on this website is great and I strongly encourage these efforts. However, I note a typo which is a potential safety concern. You identify sodium hydroxide as KOH. This is NOT correct, the chemicial formula of sodium hydroxide is NaOH. Note that lye is the common name for KOH.

  29. Jason Younker September 19, 2005 at 8:52 pm

    Biodiesel is one solution to help kick the worlds addiction to fossil fuels, but its not the only solution. I’m currently driving a 2000 Ford Taurus FFV (flexible fuel vehicle) that runs on E85 (85% ethanol, 15% petrogasoline).

    The prospects for biodiesel are very promising, and I will probably be curbing another highly driven gasser in the household and getting an older diesel car to begin running biodiesel.

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