Getting Started Making Biodiesel
by Graydon Blair of Utah Biodiesel Supply
Soon, you could be making fuel for next to nothing and enjoying the great benefits of producing
and using your own fuel. So, let's get started!
To make things easy, we've grouped the page into the sections listed below. As you read through the page, you'll see
links that say
Click Here To See The Video Tutorial Page
WHAT IS BIODIESEL
To begin, let's first talk about what Biodiesel is:
Biodiesel is a replacement for diesel fuel that can be used in most diesel engines. It has properties that allow it to burn and perform similar to diesel fuel making it an ideal replacement to petroleum based diesel fuel.
Biodiesel can be made from plant oils such as soybean oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil, and others or from animal fats such as beef or chicken tallow or pork lard. It can also be made from used fryer oil that's discarded by restaurants as a waste product; which is what we'll be focusing on. So, yes, that really means you can make fuel out of what restaurants consider to be garbage! I tend to think of it as liquid gold...and soon you may think the same as well!
Because Biodiesel can be used as a direct replacement for diesel fuel in most diesel powered vehicles, this means that you can
make Biodiesel yourself at a fraction of the cost per gallon of what you would normally pay for diesel fuel! In fact, in most
cases people are producing their own Biodiesel for less than a $1.50 per gallon! Not bad eh?
STEPS TO MAKING BIODIESEL:
1: Find An Oil Source
2: Testing The Oil
3: Filtering The Oil
4: Make A Test Batch
5: Obtaining Production Equipment
6: Obtaining Chemicals
7: Pre Treating Oil
8: Processing Biodiesel
9: Washing & Drying Biodiesel
10: Dealing With Glycerin
STEP 1 - FINDING AN OIL SOURCE | BACK TO TOP
Before you do anything else you need to secure a good source of oil. This is by far the most important thing you can do before attempting to make Biodiesel!
Several people have asked if it's possible to make Biodiesel from new oil. The answer is yes. The problem is that new oil has risen in price quite a bit in the past couple years; so much so that it typically doesn't make economical sense for a small home brewer to use it as a raw feedstock to make Biodiesel out of. For example, new Soybean oil runs about $3.65 a gallon. Add on top of that $0.85 to $1.25 a gallon production cost and you can see that it just doesn't make sense for most people wanting to produce their own Biodiesel to use new oil to make it from.
To see what the going rate for "New Organic Oil" is, visit The USDA National Weekly Ag Energy Round-Up page. They publish weekly commodity prices for new & used organic oils. You can see pricing for Soybean, Corn, and Edible Tallow Oils as well as pricing for Yellow Grease (waste vegetable oil) and a few other fuel related commodity prices. Because most of their pricing is in pounds, a handy tip is to use 7.56 lbs of oil to a gallon to figure out the cost per gallon.
For most people, the best option to make their own Biodiesel is to use waste vegetable oil (WVO). One problem with this scenario is figuring out where to get the oil from. In most cases, it will mean getting it from a restaurant or from someone that can sell waste oil that's been prefiltered. We recommend that it be filtered down to at least 400 microns or smaller (microns is a size rating typically used on filters, the smaller the number the finer the filter). If you're investigating purchasing waste oil, ensure that it's been filtered and dewatered. You'll also want to test it for something called it's "Free Fatty Acid Level" (FFA %). We explain how to do this a little later in the article. By knowing the FFA %, you can get an idea of how difficult it will be to use the oil to make Biodiesel out of.
The most common place people get waste vegetable oil is from local restaurants in the communities where they live. This is because several restaurants use grease fryers to cook the food they sell. Over time the grease deteriorates and has to be replaced. Higher quality restaurants tend to change their oil fryers on a fairly frequent basis while fast food restaurants may let it go a little longer.
I recommend finding a restaurant that changes their fryer oil at least once a week or more often. The more they change the oil, the better quality the waste oil will be which will translate into more biodiesel for you.
Another tip you'll want to look for is oil that is made from pure vegetable oil instead of animal fat, lard, or tallows. While fats and tallows can be made into biodiesel, the gel point of these oils is much higher than vegetable based oils. Because the gel point is so high, biodiesel made from such oils will often gel at a much higher temperature causing filter clogging problems. Look for Soy Bean, Canola, Peanut, Corn, or other vegetable oils in the ingredients and you'll be set. If you're unsure about what the oil is made from, just ask to see the original container that the oil came in. It'll be printed on the label.
For more information on the gel points of different oils, check out these handy reference materials:
Once you've identified your oil source, you'll need to figure out how to transport it back to your processing area. A truck, some barrels, and a pump always come in handy.
Below is our favorite pump that can be used for collecting oil.
How We Collect Oil
For more information on collecting waste oil, click on these great articles below:
STEP 2 - TESTING THE OIL | BACK TO TOP
Before committing to take on an oil source, it's important to know the quality of the oil you'll be using to make Biodiesel. Like making a good meal, it's important to start with good ingredients. Making Biodiesel is really no different. So, what makes oil "Good" or "Bad"? Two main factors really.
A How WET the oil is and
B How ACIDIC the oil is.
Find really wet, highly acidic oil and your life with Biodiesel isn't going to be fun.
Find dry, fairly low acidic oil, and making Biodiesel becomes much easier and fun to produce!
Testing Oil For Water:
Test #2 Quantitative Water Test
Test #3 Using a Water Test Kit
Check out the kit in action below
Click here to see the video in high resolution
Click here to learn more about our water test kit
B- Testing Oil For Acid Content
The method used to measure the acid content in the oil is called a Titration. It's performed by taking a sample of oil, adding it to some pH neutral alcohol, typically isopropyl alcohol, adding a pH indicator to the mixture and then slowly adding measured amounts of a solution of water with a small amount of the base chemical that you'll be using to produce your Biodiesel with.
Once the basic solution neutralizes the acid in the oil, the pH will go higher (low pH = acidic solution, high pH = basic solution), indicating that it's been neutralized. The pH indicator will then turn a different color to let you know that you've neutralized the acid. There are several types of pH indicators that can be used to do a Biodiesel titration, but the most common is Phenolphthalein. Phenol Red and Turmeric can also be used as well.Click below to see how to titrate oil with a Mini-Titration Kit
Click here & select "watch in high quality" for better resolution
For a great description of how a titration is performed, visit these great articles below:
Check out our great selection of titration kits!
STEP 3 - FILTERING THE OIL | BACK TO TOP
Before you can react the oil into Biodiesel, it's important that it be filtered to remove any food particles or other contaminants. There are several ways to filter oil, but one of the easiest methods is to obtain an open top 55 gallon drum and use a 55 gallon poly or metal drum filter. We've found these to be extremely effective and very simple to use. Most filters will come with a micron rating on them. The micron rating indicates the size of the holes in the filter. The smaller the number, the smaller the holes will be in the filter. We find that 400 micron works best for the equipment we use. We stock several micron sizes to match the equipment you'll be using.
Click here to see our poly drum filters.
Click here to see our stainless steel drum filters.
Click below to see how we filter our oil at Utah Biodiesel Supply
STEP 4 - MAKING A TEST BATCH | BACK TO TOP
One of the best ways to get started with Biodiesel is by making a small test batch of Biodiesel. It's extremely simple and you can get almost everything you'll need at a local grocery store to make it with. Click on the video below to see how to make a quick test batch.
Below are two great sites that walk you through making a test batch step by step:
STEP 5 - OBTAINING PRODUCTION EQUIPMENT | BACK TO TOP
Like all good hobbies, doing them right requires getting the proper equipment. Making biodiesel is no different. With the proper equipment, biodiesel is much easier to produce. Below is a list of the things I believe any serious biodieseler should obtain before getting started.
Do-It-Yourself Kits & Plans:
Completely Automated Processors
Click Here For Higher Resolution Video
After you produce biodiesel it's necessary to wash it to remove any contaminants such as excess methanol, soap, or left over catalyst. A good wash tank will have the ability to mist wash or bubble wash the biodiesel in an effective manner. I really like using Stand-Pipe Biodiesel Wash Tanks made from semi-transparent poly barrels mounted on a wooden stand. They work exceptionally well and are relatively inexpensive to build.
Plans & Kits
Once you've produced and washed your Biodiesel, you'll need something to put it in until it's used. The most common storage containers for completed biodiesel are 55 gallon steel or poly drums placed on drum dolly's. This makes a great portable method for moving fuel around to a vehicle when it's needed.
You can also store the biodiesel in large water jugs (called carboys) or even in gas cans. Just be sure you have the ability to seal whatever you put your completed biodiesel in so that dirt or debris don't fall into it.
We're convinced that poly tanks are the best for storing relatively small amounts of Biodiesel (less than 200 gallons) for long periods of time. This is because Biodiesel contains a small amount of water in it regardless of how dry you get it and over time it can rust the inside of a 55 gallon metal drum causing fuel quality problems. A poly drum on the other hand will keep the biodiesel in great shape. Just be sure to fill the drums up all the way and properly seal them and you should be able to easily store the Biodiesel for up to 6 months with no problems.
Some have gone even longer than that without a problem but if you are planning on selling the fuel the NREL Biodiesel Use & Handling Guidelines call for storing it no longer than 6 months. This is because Biodiesel is an organic substance and therefore is subject to oxidation which can break it down. Over time the oxidation can cause the Biodiesel to become somewhat acidic.
Making biodiesel will involve a lot of transferring liquids around from one place to the other. This can be done using several hoses and gravity or you can use transfer pumps to help out. Transfer pumps come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, configurations, and layouts. I've seen anything from a simple hand-operated barrel pump to elaborate powered models. If you're making lot's of biodiesel, a powered pump can really come in handy.
Here's a listing of the pumps you'll need.
Every titration kit should have at minimum the following items:
A Scale capable of weighing down to a gram
Ph Indicator Can be Phenol Red, Phenolphthalein, or Tumeric
- Electric Ph Meters are not recommended
Isopropyl Alcohol About 1 pint. Preferrably 92% or higher
Lye (NaOH) or Caustic Potash (KOH) - About 5-10 grams will be needed.
(1) Container capable of measuring in 10 ml increments up to at least 50 ml
(3) Containers capable of holding 50 ml of fluid
(3) Syringes or Eyedroppers graduated in 1 ml increments
(1) Container capable of holding 1 liter of fluid--preferrably sealable
We carry titration kits that comes with everything you'll need to titrate except
the isopropyl alcohol and distilled water; both of which can be picked up fairly easily at a local grocery store.
STEP 6 - OBTAINING CHEMICALS | BACK TO TOP
Methanol is used in Biodiesel Production as part of the chemical reaction. When used, the Methanol reacts with the Waste Vegetable Oil to make Biodiesel, Soap, and Glycerin.
You'll also need to obtain either Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH) or Potassium Hydroxide (KOH). Sodium Hydroxide is commonly called Lye and can be found at most chemical stores and occasionally even in plumbing stores. Potassium Hydroxide, commonly called Caustic Potash, is a little harder to find, but is well worth the effort.
Either one of these chemicals, when used to make biodiesel, will act as a catalyst to get a chemical reaction going between the Methanol and the Oil. When purchasing either one of these chemicals, be sure to find chemicals that are as pure as possible. I recommend getting Sodium Hydroxide that is at least 98% pure. If Potassium Hydroxide is used, try to find it in at least 90% purity.
My personal favorite catalyst to use is Potassium Hydroxide (KOH). It dissolves easier in Methanol, makes runnier Glycerin, and when everything's done, it doesn't clog the plumbing on processors like Sodium Hydroxide can. It will usually cost a little more to use, but the extra cost is worth it.
STEP 7 - PRE-TREATING THE OIL | BACK TO TOP
Before the oil can be made into Biodiesel, it's important to make sure that it's ready to be processed. In Step 2 we discussed testing the oil for water and acid content. Now it's time to talk about how to deal with oil with water and/or high acidic content.
A simple way of doing this is to place the oil in a 55 gallon drum and then heat the drum up using an electric drum heater. Once the oil is up to temperature, allow it to sit that way for several hours. Then, simply drain off the water from the bottom.
This can be accomplished by sucking the water out by using a barrel pump to draw the water off the bottom or by placing a small hole with a stopper in the bottom of the drum to drain the water off with. We've seen people weld cones to the bottom of drums or even something as simple as a stand-pipe wash tank style tank where they can drain the water off the bottom and then drain the oil from the stand pipe.
For a great example of a setup using a settling tank for dewatering, click here.
Another excellent method to dewater the oil is to simply heat the oil and recirculate it on top of itself for several hours.
This method is usually used to dewater finished Biodiesel, but will work equally well for dewatering oil before it's used
Reducing Acid Level
If the oil you obtain contains a high free fatty acid level, then you may want to consider reducing the acid level in the oil before using it to make Biodiesel with. Making Biodiesel from high free fatty acid feedstock can be done, but it's kind of a pain. The reason is because you end up using so much extra catalyst that by the time you have Biodiesel, you'll also have a lot of soap to deal with. Soap is the by-product that comes from neutralizing the acid with a strong base. It's just not fun to deal with.
Reducing the acid content can be done several ways.
This method, while effective, will decrease the yield of Biodiesel you'll obtain from it because a portion of the oil gets converted into soap. While we at Utah Biodiesel Supply have never used caustic stripping as a means of reducing free fatty acids, we know that it can be done and is effective. We just prefer to use the second method.
For more information on Caustic Stripping, we recommend the following:
This method uses sulfuric acid to modify the free fatty acids (FFA's) in the oil so that they can still be made into Biodiesel. It's the preferred method to use among biodieselers when dealing with high free fatty acid oil. The reason it's preferred is because instead of converting the FFA's into soap like caustic stripping does, it actually modifies the acid chains and allows them to be converted into Biodiesel. This means that the yield won't suffer as much as it does in caustic stripping.
There are several recipes for performing acid esterification, but the one most commonly used is to use 1 mL of sulfuric acid for every liter of oil you have. For instance, if you have 190 liters of oil, you'd use 190 mL of sulfuric acid. While this method works extremely well, it's important that the oil be extremely dry before using this method. If it's not dry the sulfuric acid will react with the water istead and the reaction won't occur as readily. It's also important that the sulfuric acid be highly concentrated; usually 95% pure or better is recommended.
This is the method that our automated BioPro processors utilize to handle high free fatty acid oil. We've seen it work extremely well. We've been able to make Biodiesel from some pretty nasty oil using this method and have become extremly impressed with how well it will work.
There are some downsides to using acid esterification. The biggest downside is that it takes more time for the reaction to occur. In fact, most people that attempt to do it typically don't wait long enough for the reaction to work and run into problems. When using this method plan on adding at least 6-8 hours of additional reaction time for the esterification process to work right. Keep the oil as dry as possible, use only highly concentrated sulfuric acid, and give it enough time and you should see good results. Another important note on using this method. Be sure your equipment can handle sulfuric acid. Black steel and sulfuric acid don't like each other. They can get along in diluted quantities for a while (1 mL to 1 liter is somewhat diluted) but it's not recommended.
For more information on using this method, we highly recommend our sulfuric acid biodiesel tutorial article!. Click here to go directly to the article.
STEP 8 - PROCESSING BIODIESEL | BACK TO TOP
During this step you'll actually be producing the Biodiesel. It's where the magic happens and where the actual reactions occur that allow you to make Biodiesel from organic oil. Before we get started, it's important that you practice good safety.
MAKING BIODIESEL CAN BE DANGEROUS!
LEGAL STUFF (you must agree to this before proceeding)
You understand that Methanol (Methyl-Alcohol), Sodium Hydroxide (Lye, NaOH), Potassium Hydroxide (Caustic Potash, KOH), and Sulfuric Acid (H2SO4) are highly corrosive chemical substances and may be dangerous or harmful if misused.
You hereby accept full and sole responsibility for any potential harm to person(s) or property that may result from the use or misuse (accidental or intentional) of this information.
If you don't agree with the above, discontinue reading this article and proceed no further.
Still reading? Great! Now that we've got that out of the way we can proceed. While Biodiesel can be done in a safe manner, it's extremely important that you practice good safety techniques and watch what you're doing. You're dealing with some pretty dangerous chemicals and if you don't watch it you really can get hurt. Respect it for what it is, treat it safely, be cautious and prudent and things will probably go well.
Below are two MUST READ guides on Biodiesel Safety.
Here are some additional precautions we also recommend following:
2- Biodiesel should always be made in a well-ventilated area away from children and pets with the proper safety equipment utilized.
3- Before making large batches of Biodiesel, check with your local municipality and fire marshall
to ensure that any chemicals, alcohol, or other substances you will use are being stored and used within
the proper laws and ordinances for your area. Some areas refer back to state and federal fire codes.
It's always a good idea to check before you get started.
4- Using home made Biodiesel in a diesel engine vehicle may void your manufacturer's warranty. Although the steps outlined to make it are fairly bullet proof and have been tested in several thousands of vehicles all over the world, there's no guarantee your engine manufacturer will honor your warranty.
5- Biodiesel is considered a fuel so if you plan to use it in a vehicle for on-road use, it may be subject to taxes. Check with your state and federal taxing agencies if in question.
6- Biodiesel itself, when properly made, is actually quite safe. It's less toxic than table salt and degrades faster than sugar. It has a higher flash point (point at which it ignites) than regular petrodiesel and if spilled isn't considered toxic.
OK, with that out of the way, let's start discussing how to make Biodiesel.
Below is the basic theory of what you'll be doing to produce it.
Here's the basic recipe
For a great analogy of what is going on chemically during the reaction, Click Here!
For more detailed information on making Biodiesel, visit the links below:
STEP 9 - WASHING & DRYING BIODIESEL | BACK TO TOP
After you've processed your oil into Biodiesel you'll need to wash it. The most common way to wash Biodiesel is with water. I know that sounds weird to add water to something you just tried to get water out of, but follow me on this one.
When we make Biodiesel, we always add more methanol than we need to. This is to ensure that the chemical reaction goes to full completion. After the reaction has occured, the majority of the methanol is now a part of the actual Biodiesel (however it's now chemically different), but the extra methanol that wasn't used typically will end up in the glycerin. There also is a portion of the excess methanol that ends up in suspension in the actual Biodiesel itself.
Now Methanol is a funny molecule. It's something called a bi-polar molecule. This means that one part of the molecule can hold onto Biodiesel molecules (kind of like "sticking to it") and the other part can hold onto some of the glycerin, soap, and catalyst. So, now we have finished Biodiesel, Glycerin, and some excess methanol hanging around in the Biodiesel itself holding onto some "contaminants". In order to cleanse the Biodiesel, we wash it.
How Washing Works
If a dry wash system is used, the same process essentially happens as well. The dry resin or powder absorbs or catches onto the glycerin, soap, & methanol allowing the Biodiesel to slip on by.
We personally still use water washing here at Utah Biodiesel Supply when we produce our Biodiesel and really don't plan on changing anytime soon. We think it works that well and we don't have a problem disposing of our waste water. It just goes down our drain. We do have an industrial waste water discharge permit and our sewage treatment plant has tested our water & knows what's in it and knows who we are. It cost us $125/year to discharge up to 425 gallons of waste water per week. We think it's a great deal!
To learn more about washing Biodiesel, be sure to visit these great sites:
We stock a full supply of great Biodiesel Washing Devices. Everything from misters to complete wash tank kits and everything in between.
We've even taken videos of each mister misting to show the different flow rates.
If you use water to wash your Biodiesel, you'll need to dry it when you're done. Diesel engines REALLY HATE water in the fuel. It'll kill a fuel injector really fast and can corrode the fuel injection systems. It's just not pretty!
So, now that you know you want to get rid of the water, let's talk about how it can be done. First off, there's a million different ways to dry Biodiesel. You'll find them scattered all over the internet if you look. For our purposes, we'll just discuss some of the more simple ways to do it.
Use The Sun
In order for this method to work well, it's important that the Biodiesel be kept warm. If using a Stand Pipe Wash Tank, an aquarium heater can be used to keep the temperature warm. We recommend keeping it at about 80-90 ° F while bubble drying.
For this to work well, it's important to be able to heat the Biodiesel up. Typically to temperatures above 80 to 90 ° F. Once the Biodiesel is hot, simply turn on the circulatory system and allow it to do its work. After just a few hours, the Biodiesel can be completely dried.
For more details on how this can be done we recommend visiting the following
We also carry a complete oil drying tank kit!
STEP 10 - DEALING WITH GLYCERIN | BACK TO TOP
When Biodiesel is produced the question is often raised as to what to do with the waste glycerin that also is generated. The good news is there are several things that can be done with it. Finding the one that best fits you will be your only real challenge.
Waste Water Treatment Plants
We discovered early on that waste water treatment plants with these special digesters were willing to take crude glycerin like that produced in Biodiesel production. We called them up & asked if they'd be willing to give it a try & they were willing but they wanted to test a sample first. We took them down some of our glycerin, they pulled a sample and in a few weeks called us back & said we could bring them as much as we wanted. Turns out the crude glycerin acts like food to the bacteria and causes more methane generation to occur. Because of this the plant was willing to take all of our glycerin and we now had an environmentally friendly way to dispose of it.
About every month or so we take about 3-5 55 gallon barrels full of crude glycerin to the plant and they take it off our hands. They don't pay us to take it but we also don't have to pay them either so it's a great arrangement. Click Here To See Us Dropping It Off
This concludes our Getting Started article on Biodiesel. We encourage you to read through our selection of other great articles on Biodiesel
Additional Utah Biodiesel Supply Articles
Below are a few websites that we've hand-picked that we highly recommend
Kitchen Biodiesel A site that will walk you through the basics of making a small batch with great visuals
Murphys Machines Visit here for great articles on Titration, Using A Syringe, How To Collect Oil, and a great chemical & methanol locator
Biodiesel Log Allows you to easily log your Biodiesel production online!
Biodiesel Pictures A site with tons of pictures of peoples different Biodiesel equipment.
Infopop Biodiesel Forum Absolute best Biodiesel forum on the planet! We love this one! Go here to learn from the pros!
And Now For Some Fun....
From Crops To Biodiesel
You Know You're A Biodiesel Nut When...
Funny Captions To Biodiesel Pictures
Best of luck to you as you begin your journey with Biodiesel. Just watch out! Once it gets ahold of you, it can be very addicting (something about saving gobs of money while having fun at the same time I suppose).
Thanks for stopping by & here's hoping your Biodiesel adventures are as fun as ours have been!
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