Looking for an Eco-Friendly Way to Fuel Your Car? Make Your Own Biodiesel!

by , 05/06/14

Gas prices continue to rise, and things are not getting better as far as oil resources are concerned. Fracking, deep-sea drilling, and massive spills are all wreaking havoc on the planet, and all that mess is a short-term solution anyway—crude oil is a finite resource, and it’s going to run out much more quickly than most folks realize. There are alternatives, however, and one of them is biodiesel. With the help of some reader feedback, we’ve put together a recipe and how-to instructions for making biodiesel. Read on to learn how you can have a healthier, cheaper, more environmentally friendly ride.


Remember, a diesel vehicle does not require any modification at all in order to run on biodiesel. Once you’re sure you’ve got a quality brew (or if you are lucky enough to live somewhere where biodiesel is available at the pump), you just fill up and go!

Two things to keep in mind before you begin:

1. The instructions here are not oversimplified, but neither are they spelled out down to the last detail. This is something you can do yourself (I have, many times), but it’s still a chemical process and the substance you create is going into your vehicle. So, the first time you try it, keep someone with experience by your side, and be meticulous.

2. Many of the ingredients involved here are hazardous! You don’t want to blind, burn, or otherwise harm yourself or your friends, so use extreme caution! 


I bought a 1983 Mercedes 300 Turbo Diesel in 2003 and began running it on biodiesel immediately. The mileage is equivalent 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 fewer greenhouse gases spewing out of my tailpipe. On top of the practical benefits, it’s been thrilling to watch biodiesel move from the fringe to the mainstream, gaining validation from government officials and business trendspotters, and street cred from farmers and truckers (and Willie Nelson).

Related: Boeing Introduces New Biofuel that Costs Only $3 per Gallon


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 gotten it right before you pour!

The Goal: Chemically speaking, vegetable oil is a tri-glyceride. Through the process of making biodiesel, the glycerin in the oil is replaced with an alcohol molecule, in this case utilizing methanol. This reaction is called transesterification.

Preparation: To get started, you will need vegetable oil; either new, or waste. 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 use for smoothies again!)
  • 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, and dissolve it into one liter of distilled water. In a 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 straight away; be careful not to inhale or ingest this stuff! (Wearing a mask while you work may be a good idea.)

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. The biodiesel (which is non-toxic) goes in your tank, and if you treat the glycerin to remove traces of methanol, it, too, becomes a harmless substance which, if you are exceptionally industrious, can be used to make soap. You’ve reincarnated grease into two phenomenally useful substances. Amazing!

Related: Algae Biofuel Emits at Least 50% Less Carbon than Petroleum Fuels


Just in case you’re worried about making your own biodiesel, there are many places where you can purchase it instead of making it yourself. Check out the Biodiesel Co-Op and Fuel Network for a list of sources closest to you: 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…

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, check out the links below:

+ Metaefficient (excellent FAQ on biodiesel)

+ Propel Fuels

+ Blue Sun

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  1. DocWu August 25, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    Okay, that’s a nice table-top proof that you can make enough biodeisel to get your car started…

    How about some advice on scaling that up to a size that might be practical for a real person, like maybe 55-gallon size?

    And what will we do with all that glycerine on a larger scale?

  2. Carl October 25, 2007 at 2:48 pm

    Awww, moderation… if that part about Steve killing himself isn’t in there I will be greatly upset.

  3. Carl October 25, 2007 at 2:46 pm

    I am looking into producing biodiesel out of soy beans… not soya… soy. Kill yourself, Steve. Anyway, any information on the production of biodiesel from soy beans would be helpful. Also if you know any other products I could use to make biodiesel, such as peanuts, would be helpful.

  4. Steve Uzer May 31, 2007 at 4:21 am

    hello i will like to know the entire process producing diesel with soya beans

  5. Castor Oil July 13, 2006 at 11:22 am

    Useful article, one of the few I have come across that focusses on the practical aspects of biodiesel…valuable links too, thanks

    I am acually in search of content on biodiesel production from castor oil for a page we are putting up on the topic @ http://www.castoroil.in ( see http://www.castoroil.in/uses/fuel/castor_oil_fuel.html )…I understand that the only issue of debate could be the viscosity of the biodiesel, and would like any more inputs from members here

    Thanks for your patienc

    Ec @ Castor Oil Online @ http://www.castoroil.in

  6. James July 6, 2006 at 1:28 am

    Your site is fantastic!
    How about one on how to legally make your own tax free ethanol?


  7. Sarah May 25, 2006 at 7:29 pm

    Absolutely true, Jeff, biodiesel does still release greenhouse and other gases, though dramatically less than standard diesel. I certainly intended to say “fewer” not “no” emissions come from my tailpipe. Biodiesel is not a perfect or permanent solution to our problems, and most of the staunchest advocates I know will still attest that biodiesel is merely an intermediary step on the way to better solutions. According to the EPA:

    “B100 reduces emissions of particulate matter and carbon monoxide by 47 percent. It also reduces emissions of hydrocarbons by 67 percent. However, B100 increases emissions of nitrogen oxides by 10 percent. According to the US Department of Energy, biodiesel production and use, in comparison to petroleum diesel, produces 78% less carbon dioxide emissions. Although carbon dioxide is released when biodiesel made from soybeans is combusted, the annual production of soybean crops helps remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”

    Thanks for your comment!

  8. Jeff May 25, 2006 at 7:12 pm

    Not to be a wet blanket, but burning this stuff creates CO2, H2O, and other combustion products, so if your engine is running, Sarah, you’re spewing greenhouse gases out your tailpipe.

    Greenhouse gas: Any gas that absorbs infra-red radiation in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases include water vapor, carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), halogenated fluorocarbons (HCFCs) , ozone (O3), perfluorinated carbons (PFCs), and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

    Hard to avoid creating greenhouse gas — even pedaling your bike will do it, when you breath.

  9. Christoper A. Pine AICP May 19, 2006 at 9:10 pm

    I am a local land-use planning and entitlements consultant, and I can attest that things have moved relatively rapidly here in Southern California. With the leadership of several committed biodiesel users and experimenters, we have organized a consumers’ cooperative, Biodiesel Cooperative of Los Angeles, Inc. to popularize the use of biodiesel among existing diesel vehicle owners by making the locally produced and bulk-distributed ASTM-certified products more readily available “at the pump”. Up until very recently, one had the option of having making your own “homebrew” or getting the stuff shipped in bulk (55 gallon drums) to your home, or driving to the edges of the Greater Los Angeles region to fill up your barrels and Jerry cans (a quasi-military survivalist exercise, in the eyes of most consumers). Operational since January 6, we are somewhat unique in that we have a portable 1000 gallon trailer which we can move to a convenient central location (or take as a roadshow to farmers’ markets, school fairs, and recently, Earth Day fairs), from which the membership fills their VW’s, Mercedes, Jeeps, Dodge and Ford pickups, etc., with B100 or B99 (almost pure) biodiesel. Right now, our producer’s feedstock is California-grown surplus walnut oil, so our cars smell like baking cookies or furniture polish, rather than french fries! Our pioneering visibility has prompted the birth of a service station chain, USA Grown Fuel, which we (jokingly) say we want to put us out of business! Seriously, as stations are added, we hope to build additional fueling trailers, and grow membership “clubs” out the freeways inland, Johnny Appleseed-style, with the “bricks n’ mortar” service stations popping up behind. As of last week, biodiesel was cheaper at the pump than even regular unleaded gas! Check out our local website, http://www.biodiesel-coop.org, or link to http://www.biodiesel.org, the official website of the National Biodiesel Board.

  10. Julie May 18, 2006 at 4:30 am

    I own a fleet of large diesel trucks and have been looking into the possibility of using a biodiesel product. While I may not make enough ever for us to use this, at least, gives me some idea how biodiesel is produced.

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