How to Make Biodiesel

Topics: Ethanol, Methanol, Biodiesel Pages: 12 (3203 words) Published: March 20, 2009
Make your own biodiesel
Converting vegetable oil to biodiesel is probably the best all-round solution (or we think so anyway).

Where do I start?
Start with the process, NOT with the processor. The processor comes later.

Start with fresh unused oil, NOT with waste vegetable oil (WVO), that also comes later.

Start by making a small, 1-litre test batch of biodiesel using fresh new oil. You can use a spare blender, or, better, make a simple Test-batch mini-processor.

Keep going, step by step. Study everything on this page and the next page and at the links in the text. There are checks and tests along the way so you won't go wrong.

Once you've mastered small test batches with new oil that pass the quality control checks provided, you'll learn how to make test batches with used oil (WVO) that also pass the quality checks.

Then you'll be ready to move up to production of full-sized batches of top-quality fuel.

Get some methanol, some lye and some new oil at the supermarket and go ahead -- it's a real thrill! The process
Biodiesel is made from vegetable and animal fats and oils, or triglycerides. Chemically, triglycerides consist of three long-chain fatty acid molecules joined by a glycerine molecule. The biodiesel process uses a catalyst (lye) to break off the glycerine molecule and combine each of the three fatty-acid chains with a molecule of methanol, creating mono-alkyl esters, or Fatty Acid Methyl Esters (FAME) -- biodiesel. The glycerine sinks to the bottom and is removed.

The process is called transesterification. See How the process works

Chemicals needed

Some basic information on the chemicals you'll be using. The quantities required and full instructions for use follow.

For beginners starting out with small, 1-litre test batches it's best to buy top-quality chemicals from a chemicals supplies company.

The unit costs might seem quite high, but since you'll only be needing small amounts at first it's worth the price to eliminate the risk and confusion of poor-quality chemicals spoiling your results.

Once you've mastered the process and you're ready to move up to full-scale batches, then it's time to find cheaper sources of chemicals in bulk.

The alcohol used can be either methanol, which makes methyl esters, or ethanol (ethyl esters). Methanol can be made from biomass, such as wood, but nearly all methanol is made from natural gas, which is a fossil fuel. There is as yet no "backyard" method of producing methanol, it's an industrial process.

Most ethanol is plant-based (though some is also made from petroleum), and you can make it yourself. But making biodiesel with ethanol is much more difficult than making it with methanol -- ethanol biodiesel is not for beginners. (See Ethyl esters.)

Ethanol (or ethyl alcohol, grain alcohol -- EtOH, C2H5OH) also goes by various other well-known names, such as whisky, vodka, gin, and so on, while methanol is a poison. Actually they're both poisons, it's just a matter of degree, methanol is more poisonous.

Don't be put off -- methanol is not dangerous if you're careful, it's easy to do this safely. Safety is built-in to everything you'll read here. See Safety. See More about methanol.

Methanol is also called methyl alcohol, wood alcohol, wood naphtha, wood spirits, methyl hydrate (or "stove fuel"), carbinol, colonial spirits, Columbian spirits, Manhattan spirits, methylol, methyl hydroxide, hydroxymethane, monohydroxymethane, pyroxylic spirit, or MeOH (CH3OH or CH4O) -- all the same thing. (But, confusingly, "methylcarbinol" or "methyl carbinol" is used for both methanol and ethanol.)

Methanol must be 99+% pure.
For test batches, some suppliers sell small quantities as well as bulk, try chemicals suppliers. Duda's Alternative Energy Store provides pure methanol in small quantities "for getting started", buy online:

"DriGas" fuel antifreeze can also be used for test batches, one type is...
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