how to make biodiesel at home


How Algae Biodiesel Works

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What Makes Biodiesel From Algae So Exciting?

how to make biodiesel at home

Replacing fossil fuels with algae, a renewable resource, to make biodiesel is an exciting possibility. Before we dive into the subject of algae biodiesel , let's get to know more about algae . More than 100,000 different species of plantlike organisms belong the algae family. They come in various forms and colors, from tiny protozoa floating in ponds to huge bunches of seaweed inhabiting the ocean. Leafy kelp, grassy moss and fungus growing on rocks are all forms of algae. You may even see algae in different colors such as red, green and brown. Algae are easy to grow and can be manipulated to produce huge amounts without disturbing any natural habitats or food sources. Algae are easy to please -- all they need are water , sunlight and carbon dioxide.

So, are algae all the same? Various algae contain different levels of oil. Of all the algae out there, pond scum -- algae that sit on top of ponds -- is best suited for biodiesel.

During the biodiesel production process, algae consume carbon dioxide. In other words, through photosynthesis, algae pull carbon dioxide from the air, replacing it with oxygen. For this reason, algae biodiesel manufacturers are building biodiesel plants close to energy manufacturing plants that produce lots of carbon dioxide. Recycling carbon dioxide reduces pollution.

How about some leftovers? Pressing algae creates a few more useful byproducts -- fertilizer and feedstock -- without depleting other food sources.

The most exciting part of algae biodiesel is the numbers game. Biodiesel makers claim they'll be able to produce more than 100,000 gallons of algae oil per acre per year depending on:

  • The type of algae being used
  • The way the algae is grown
  • The method of oil extraction

Algae production has the potential to outperform other potential biodiesel products such as palm or corn. For example, a 100-acre algae biodiesel plant could potentially produce 10 million gallons of biodiesel in a single year. Experts estimate it will take 140 billion gallons of algae biodiesel to replace petroleum-based products each year. To reach this goal, algae biodiesel companies will only need about 95 million acres of land to build biodiesel plants, compared to billions of acres for other biodiesel products. Since algae can be grown anywhere indoors, it's a promising element in the race to produce a new fuel.

Extracting oil from algae may seem like a grimy job. So, let's roll up our sleeves and get into algae biodiesel engineering.

Researchers are testing other resources for biodiesel use. They include corn, palm oil, soybean, hemp seed, switchgrass, sugarcane and wood residue. Only time will tell which one will be the next major fuel supply.

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How to Make Biodiesel: DIY Home Biodiesel Production

Homemade biodiesel helps you speed past the gas station toward fuel independence. our expert outlines processing used cooking oil in a small diy plant..

article image

If you’re steering your household toward a more self-sufficient lifestyle, maybe you’d like to add do-it-yourself fuel to your list of goals. Biodiesel can be brewed from waste vegetable oil or animal fats, which you can collect free from restaurants, or you can grow soybeans or canola to press your own oil. Process the oil with a couple of chemicals to produce homemade fuel that can run any device powered by petroleum diesel — including pickups, cars, and home heating systems. Do it right, and DIY biodiesel can cost as little as $1 per gallon to manufacture. The scale is up to you: Brew enough to make your homestead fuel-independent, or join forces with neighbors to produce fuel for your collective households.

At minimum, the equipment you’ll need for home biodiesel production is a stainless steel reactor tank, a wash station to remove the coproducts, and containers for storing the resulting fuel. You can rig up an electric water heater as a biodiesel reactor for less than $1,000, or spend about the same amount on a kit. If you’d rather opt for a ready-made, automated system, expect to pay $10,000 or more.

Safely making high-quality fuel in your backyard will take planning and work, but the freedom and money-savings of driving down the road on fuel you’ve made yourself are hard to beat.

water heater converted in to a biodiesel reactor

The Chemistry of Making Biodiesel

Biodiesel production is dependent on two chemical reactions . The first is commonly called the “methoxide reaction.” It happens when you mix methanol with a catalyst, which can be either potassium hydroxide or sodium hydroxide.

The methoxide reaction is “exothermic,” meaning it gives off heat. Don’t use plastic vessels when creating methoxide. They don’t hold up well to heat and have a tendency to explode or dissolve because plastic can store a static electrical charge. Always opt for stainless steel equipment when making biodiesel.

Sodium hydroxide is commercially produced lye; both sodium hydroxide and potassium hydroxide are available online from suppliers of soap-making equipment. Procure methanol at your local chemical distributor or race car shop (race car drivers often blend methanol into their fuel supplies). In North Carolina, where I live, you can carry 100 gallons of methanol on your pickup truck without special permits or licensing.

After you’ve achieved a successful methoxide reaction, the second required process is the biodiesel reaction. This occurs when you mix methoxide with oil and agitate the molecules. The product of the biodiesel reaction will be a mix of about 80 percent biodiesel and a 20 percent cocktail of coproducts. You can either drain the coproducts off the bottom of your tank, or decant the biodiesel from the top of the tank.

black and white illustration of the steps for biodiesel

Planning a Home Biodiesel Plant

Step one: Find a reliable source of feedstock.

Try sourcing used cooking oil from restaurants, makeup manufacturers or nutraceutical companies. If you’re planning to sell your biodiesel, begin by analyzing the available feedstock supply, and make plans to size your operation accordingly. The commercial biodiesel landscape is littered with the carcasses of producers who built to meet fuel demand only to find they couldn’t secure enough feedstock to make their biofuel plants work.

Most brewers who make biofuels for themselves (that is, not to sell) secure a source of used cooking oil from area restaurants as feedstock for their operations. While you can grow “virgin” feedstock (such as soybeans and sunflower seeds), waste vegetable oil works fine and is less expensive. You can easily make your own fuel for $1 per gallon by collecting free or cheap cooking oil after it’s served its useful life in a restaurant’s deep fryer. A gallon of oil will yield about a gallon of biodiesel.

Step two: Build your plant, sized to your feedstock supply.

A small homebrewing operation can fit in the corner of a garage, within the footprint of a single parking space. Allow enough space for a water heater, a tank for storing your incoming feedstock, and a tank for washing your fuel. For starters, aim to line up enough feedstock to meet your family’s fuel requirements.

If you’re collecting used cooking oil from restaurants, expect that 20 percent of the material you gather will be water and bits of fried food. Water is not your friend when making biodiesel, so you’ll need to remove it by heating the oil and allowing the contaminants to settle to the bottom before you pour the oil off the top. You’ll have to devise a plan for disposing of the greasy wastewater. Pigs love it, and it improves their coats, so ask around to find a local farmer who will take it off your hands.

blue gas pump with three pump handles

Ensuring Safe Biofuel Production

Home biodiesel production is not without risks. Making your own fuel will require great attention to detail and safety because you’ll be using chemicals that are flammable and caustic. This article outlines the basics of how to make biodiesel, but you’ll need to research carefully before you begin production. (See “Resources”)

Rules and Regulations for Biodiesel Plants

Be sure to check with your local zoning department, too, to see whether you may face restrictions related to fuel production. Note that farms are exempt from zoning approval in many areas. You should also get in touch with your area fire marshal or the local building inspection folks about fire-code compliance.

When designing your DIY biodiesel plant, be sure to devise a strategy for getting rid of coproducts before you begin production, because you don’t want to end up with totes of methanol-laced glycerin piled up behind the barn. The cocktail produced by the biodiesel reaction tends to be filled with methanol, glycerin, free fatty acids and soaps. Because methanol is a microbial starter for digesters, some wastewater treatment plants will welcome it, as will some commercial-scale composters. Or, a friendly community biodiesel producer may accept it from you.

woman collecting used cooking oil from an oil dumpster

Designing a DIY Biodiesel Plant

Backyard biodiesel plants tend to be as diverse as the people who create them. Water heater tanks recycled into biodiesel reactors are common: Imagine an electric water heater, with a pipe plumbed to its outlet at the bottom, attached to a mixing pump that sends liquids to the top of the tank and back around again. Many small brewers cobble together their own vessels and pipes from scrap. Others order off-the-shelf parts or kits (see “Resources”).

Perhaps you’d prefer a biodiesel setup on the go. You and a group of neighbors can cooperate on a mobile biodiesel processor that can travel to the feedstock source. Mobile processors tend to be significantly more expensive than fixed units set up in a garage, but they can offer regulatory flexibility. In my experience, local building authorities tend to ignore mobile processors, because they prefer to inspect units that are stationary. Mobile processors also offer the possibility of sharing a capital resource with other fuel consumers.

You can build a small-scale biodiesel plant on the back of a pickup truck for a couple thousand dollars. Outfitted with an 80-gallon reactor, such a plant could make enough fuel to meet a handful of families’ biodiesel needs — assuming there’s enough used cooking oil to feed and operate it. With free feedstock, $1-per-gallon biodiesel could pay back the cost of the system quickly by providing enough fuel to keep everyone rolling. Find detailed instructions on making biodiesel in my book and in the other titles under “Resources.”

yellow trailer attached to a white truck

• Backyard Biodiesel: How to Brew Your Own Fuel by Lyle Estill and Bob Armantrout • Run Your Diesel Vehicle on Biofuels: A Do-It-Yourself Manual by Jon Starbuck and Gavin Harper • Biodiesel Basics and Beyond by William Kemp

Suppliers of Biofuel Plant Equipment

• Utah Biodiesel Supply • Springboard Biodiesel

Lyle Estill is the founder of Piedmont Biofuels, a community-scale biodiesel plant in Pittsboro, N.C. He hasn’t filled up at a local gas station since January 2002.

how to make biodiesel at home

  • Updated on Apr 28, 2022
  • Originally Published on Jul 9, 2015

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Make Biodiesel!


Introduction: Make Biodiesel!

Make Biodiesel!

Instructable #2 in my series on biodiesel. This is my tutorial for using my appleseed processor to make biodiesel. This tutorial will get you through the process of making biodiesel, but not the necessary washing process. I will do my next instructable on dry-washing biodiesel. Biodiesel is a great way to go green, and cut your carbon footprint quite substantially, not to mention it's cheaper than diesel. Biodiesel will run in a diesel engine, I don't recommend trying it in a gas engine. The process for making biodiesel uses an oil, a catalyst, and an alcohol. In this case: Waste vegi oil (WVO), NaOH (lye), and methanol. Please read up on this before you start, and please understand the chemical dangers involved in this process.

Step 1: Safety


First off, some disclaimers and safety info. NaOH (or KOH, depending on your catalyst of choice) is extremely caustic and will cause extreme irritation if it comes into contact with your skin, eyes, or any other part of you. Methanol is a harmful alcohol. It will cause blindness or death if ingested; one way it's absorbed into your body is through your skin, so simply handling the stuff with bare hand is bad for you. Lastly, Methoxide, the substance produced when you mix your catalyst with the methanol, is an extremely toxic nerve agent. It can do some serious bodily damage. BE CAREFUL I use a chemical resistant p100 respirator when I do this process, as well as eye protection. I use some heavy-duty chemical-proof gloves from Northern Tool. Long sleeves are recommended.

Step 2: Necessary Supplies

Before you make the fuel you need to filter your oil . I filter mine down to 50 microns. I know people who don't filter at all and some people who filter as fine as 10 microns. One person I know simply lets it settle for a few days and disposes of the sludge that settles on the bottom. To filter it I just hung a bag filter above a clean 5 gal. bucket. I used an old sock to get out the large particles before it went through the filter. For the actual making of the fuel you will need: - an appleseed processor -WVO (you'll get as much fuel as the amount of WVO you use) You can get this from restaurants, but you need their OK before you take it. You will get arrested and get in a pile of trouble if you just take the oil. Avoid burnt oil, as this will not react to make biodiesel. Most fast food places burn their oil. -A catalyst: NaOH (sodium hydroxide) or KOH (potassium hydroxide) The difference? well, KOH dissolves better in the methanol and NaOH tends to make the final byproduct (glycerin) more congealed. Also, you use different amounts depending on which you go with. NaOH is cheaper, and that's why I went with it. -Methanol Methanol is used for race car fuel, and can be purchases at many chemical supply places. This is the most expensive part of the process. Methanol is at about $5 a gallon. This still ends up being cheaper than regular diesel, since you add 20% methanol for the amount of WVO you use. Safety equipment you'll need: -chemical resistant p100 respirators Got 2 at Lowes for $25-$30 each -lab goggles - chemical resistant gloves What you'll need for the titration: -Isopropyl alcohol get this at an auto parts store -distilled water -a very tiny bit of your catalyst (NaOH or KOH) -a sample of your WVO -3 oral syringes Get these at the drug store -Phenol Red indicator (like for testing your pool water)

Step 3: Filter the WVO

Filter the WVO

I'm going to leave the collection part up to you, I'm just going to tell you what to do with the oil once you have it. You should get it in Carboys, it's easiest to use this way. my basic setup is very low tech, just a bag filter hung from a broom stick over a clean bucket. I used a sock this time around to try and get a longer life out of my filters. I have on clean carboy I put some oil in, and put the rest in another bucket. Some people like to heat their oil before they filter it. Probably not a bad idea, and I may do this in the future. Do not use any crappy oil that looks like a cloudy mess at the bottom of the oil. You can see it in one of my pictures. It has water in it, and will ruin your reaction, avoid using this at all costs.

Step 4: Titrate Your Oil

Titrate Your Oil

This is where we test the acidity of the oil, by measuring the free fatty acids, to see how much NaOH is needed for the reaction. Start by measuring out 1 gram of NaOH and mixing that with one liter of the distilled water. This gives you a 1/1000 solution. Keep this, you won't use it all on one titration. Next measure out 10 milliliters of the isopropyl and 1 milliliter of your WVO sample. Mix these in the same jar. Now add about 5 drops of Phenol Red indicator to this solution; swirl to get it mixed. Fill the last syringe with your lye/water solution and add 1/4 milliliter at a time while swirling the jar. Once it turns bright pink and stays that way you need to count exactly how many milliliters of lye/water solution you used to neutralize the acidity of the oil. Now we can use this information to tell us how much NaOH to use in the reaction. The formula is this: For NaOH- # of liters of oil x 4 grams + titration For example, say I titrated at 2 milliliters and was using 50 liters of oil. I would do 50 x 6=300. 300 grams of NaOH for that batch.

Step 5: Prep the Oil

Prep the Oil

Take a carboy filled with oil and connect a section of hose from the carboy to the intake valve on your processor. Use hose clamps to secure the hose to the carboy lid with the ball valve on it. Be sure to have primed the pump. Now open the valve on the carboy and the intake valve. Turn on the pump and make sure the glycerin drain and out-take valve are both closed, so oil doesn't come shooting out. At this point it is very important to have the pressure vent on the processor open, this way you can leave the valve nearest the processor tank closed and let as much oil as you can be sucked though the intake point and get pumped into the tank. Also, be sure to have the vent on the back of the carboy open, or you'll create a vacuum and the carboy will implode. Once all the oil is in the tank you can turn on the element. If you're using more than 5 gallons of oil you obviously will need to disconnect the hose and repeat more than once. Heat the oil to 130 degrees F. (you can open the drain valve, get a quick sample, and use a quick-read thermometer to check. )

Step 6: Methoxide Mixing and Introduction to the WVO

This is the most dangerous part of making the fuel. Measure out 20% of the total volume of oil worth of methanol into a carboy with a vent. (1 gallon of methanol per 5 gallons of oil and so on.) Be wearing eye protection, chemical resistant gloves, and a respirator at this point. Measure out the calculated amount of catalyst and put it in/on a coffee filter or something that you can dump quickly. Dump the catalyst into the carboy and immediately screw on the same lid or same kind of lid as shown in the previous step, the one with a ball valve on it. Shake vigorously and crack the valve open away from you and other people. It will hiss. Shake it up some more, to be sure you get things dissolved all the way. You may need to vent it once or twice more to release the pressure. Hook this up the same way you did the carboy with the oil. Make sure it's all very tight and secure, you don't want this stuff leaking. leave the intake valve closed for now. Open the valve on the carboy and remove the vent cap so there is a slight bit of air coming into the carboy as some of the liquid trickles down the hose. Open all the valves in the circuit on the processor and start the pump again so the oil is circulating. Leave the element on. Now very very slowly crack the intake valve so the methoxide is introduced very very slowly. If you introduce it too quickly it will make soap. Not what we're shooting for here. Tilt the carboy to make sure all the methoxide drains out. Close the intake valve. Double check the pressure vent on the processor. chemical reactions are happening and the pressure needs somewhere to go. Let this go for about an hour before you consolidate it all in the tank. Let it sit with the element on for the next 12-14 hours.

Step 7: Draining the Glycerin

Draining the Glycerin

The main byproduct of biodiesel is glycerin. You put in 20% methanol, and get out 20% glycerin. Glycerin is useful, and can be used to make soap and things. You can also compost it. Just be sure to boil off any leftover methanol before you use it. There may be some unreacted catalyst, too. After 12-14 hours it should be separated out. Open the valve nearest the tank and make sure the valve on the other side of the drain is closed, then slowly open the drain valve. Drain into a bucket until what's coming out changes color. At this point you've drained the glycerin and have reached the fuel. Drain the fuel into a separate bucket/container.

Step 8: What's Next?

What's Next?

Now all you need to do is wash your fuel before you can put it in a car. There are several methods to wash fuel, and if you use water you need to be sure to dry it. I'm dry-washing my fuel. Dry-washing uses Magnesol , and it uses no water. My next instructable will deal with the washing process. Please don't run unwashed fuel in your car, and please don't forget to dry/filter after you wash. Now I know some of you are wondering about this, and yes, I am going to add a methanol recovery system. As soon as I add the larger tank I'm adding that and some other upgrade type things. Cheers! -DMC

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could you pls email video presentation to understand the process Thanking you,


3 years ago

Please provide a information by biodiesel manufacturing, and cost (as possible law cost).


4 years ago on Introduction

hi name is ashok kumar mohapatra.i read your is very helpful for me to make my biodiesel project...if u will help me regarding this within low budget...then i can start my project...thank u.


Question 5 years ago

How do you get solid fryer Oil to be a liquid


6 years ago

where would i get ethanol online at cheap rates


Reply 6 years ago

Try Aliexpress or cheap wodka.


15 years ago on Introduction

If you're making biofuel from waste products good on you, but if you think that biofuel is the 'green' solution to everyones transport needs I have to rain on the parade a bit. Biofuel sounds like a good idea until you start thinking about the consequences of it a little. Like the way it's pushing up the price of food around the world , and the fact that producing food crops uses about 2.3 times more fossil fuel energy to grow than the energy they provide. Looks like I can swap destroying the climate with my car for causing global famine with my car. Makes you wonder what would it take to get people to ride bikes instead.


Reply 15 years ago on Introduction

One word: Algae. Biofuels from food crops- bad idea, biofuels from non-food sources- the way of the future.


Reply 7 years ago

Please can I get your contact(facebook account, mail or whatsapp)

Well, biofuels from non food crops sounds good, until farmers who were growing food crops realise there's more money in growing fuel crops and give up growing food. It's not rocket surgery, it's market economics 101. If everyone switches to biofuels we can kiss the last of the world's rainforests goodbye. Biofuels from algae does sound promising, but then there will be impacts on marine environments. It just takes a lot of area to power the private car fleet with plant based sources. But you know I use biofuel for most of my transport needs: I eat food and ride a bike.

Yes, but algae can be grown in the middle of nowhere. The fact that soil conditions matter a lot less with algae means it doesn't have to take up food crop land, or rainforest areas. There's still plenty of ground to cover, but algae is very promising.


actually, soil conditions don't matter at all to algae, because it grows in the WATER, thats right, not the middle of nowhere, the middle of the OCEAN, its actually a promising idea, I've heard of it before. About the farmers switching to it, most like there land, not the ocean, I'm sure that a new job niche will only do good things for the economy (now, I've tried to make this neutral enough so that I don't spark a huge debate, but, in advance, sorry if i offend anyone)

Well, the most promising way to grow it right now is in tanks, above ground. No harvesting required. This could be done in the middle of nowhere, somewhere where the soil is no good for growing food-crops.


Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

remember we can always go down or up so we could have tanks stacked on top of eachother 10 stories down and 10 stories up, that would reduse the surface area of the tanks on land by 95%


I like the one where they use overgrown plastic baggies hung row after row, with the algae solution pumped into the top and it slowly winds its way to the bottom. Still has big tanks to drain it into, but it does allow for circulation and central harvesting / maintenance / feeding. Some bloke in El Paso TX seems to have come up with it, but they are still working on which is the most profitable strain of algae for them. personally I have seen plenty of swimming pools and ponds that could use to have some cleaning done ... at least there the algae could be used rather than just thrown / flushed away if algae harvesting was easy to do.


Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

OI VEY! soylyent green!


Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

Overpopulation is going to destroy man-kind far before climate change. Thank the good folks who are against contraception and work so hard for disease control for that.

yep, but riding bikes on a 50 mile one way commute in Houston TX or LA kind of sucks. ... such is life for those outside the sweet spot areas where walking, bicycling, or even train commuting is an option.


Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

lol, perhaps your problem was taking a job that required communing 100 miles a day.

The Dark Lord

If he's making it from WASTE oil, than tell me again how that will drive up food prices? It was going to be thrown away anyways; hence the term "waste".

How to Make Biodiesel From Vegetable Oil

Juanmonino / Getty Images

  • Ph.D., Biomedical Sciences, University of Tennessee at Knoxville
  • B.A., Physics and Mathematics, Hastings College

Biodiesel is a diesel fuel that is made by reacting vegetable oil (cooking oil) with other common chemicals. Biodiesel may be used in any diesel automotive engine in its pure form or blended with petroleum-based diesel. No modifications are required, and the result is a less-expensive, renewable, clean-burning fuel.

Here's how to make biodiesel from fresh oil. You can also make biodiesel from waste cooking oil, but that is a little more involved, so let's start with the basics.

Materials for Making Biodiesel

  • 1 liter of new vegetable oil (e.g., canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil)
  • 3.5 grams (0.12 ounces) sodium hydroxide (also known as lye). Sodium hydroxide is used for some drain cleaners. The label should state that the product contains sodium hydroxide ( not calcium hypochlorite, which is found in many other drain cleaners).
  • 200 milliliters (6.8 fluid ounces) of methanol (methyl alcohol). Heet fuel treatment is methanol. Be sure the label says the product contains methanol (Iso-Heet, for example, contains isopropyl alcohol and won't work).
  • Blender with a low-speed option. The pitcher for the blender is to be used only for making biodiesel. You want to use one made from glass, not plastic because the methanol you will use can react with plastic.
  • Digital scale to accurately measure 3.5 grams, which equals 0.12 ounces
  • Glass container marked for 200 milliliters (6.8 fluid ounces). If you don't have a beaker, measure the volume using a measuring cup, pour it into a glass jar, then mark the fill-line on the outside of the jar.
  • Glass or plastic container that is marked for 1 liter (1.1 quarts)
  • Widemouthed glass or plastic container that will hold at least 1.5 liters (2-quart pitcher works well)
  • Safety glasses, gloves, and an (optional) apron

You do not want to get sodium hydroxide or methanol on your skin, nor do you want to breathe the vapors from either chemical. Both are toxic. Please read the warning labels on the containers for these products. Methanol is readily absorbed through your skin, so do not get it on your hands. Sodium hydroxide is caustic and will give you a chemical burn. Prepare your biodiesel in a well-ventilated area. If you spill either chemical on your skin, rinse it off immediately with water.

How to Make Biodiesel

  • You want to prepare the biodiesel in a room that is at least 70 degrees F because the chemical reaction will not proceed to completion if the temperature is too low.
  • If you haven't already, label all your containers as "Toxic—Only Use for Making Biodiesel." You don't want anyone drinking your supplies, and you don't want to use the glassware for food again.
  • Pour 200 milliliters methanol (Heet) into the glass blender pitcher.
  • Turn the blender on its lowest setting and slowly add 3.5 grams sodium hydroxide (lye). This reaction produces sodium methoxide, which must be used right away or else it loses its effectiveness. (Like sodium hydroxide, it can be stored away from air/moisture, but that might not be practical for a home setup.)
  • Mix the methanol and sodium hydroxide until the sodium hydroxide has completely dissolved (about 2 minutes), then add 1 liter of vegetable oil to this mixture.
  • Continue blending this mixture (on low speed) for 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Pour the mixture into a widemouthed jar. You will see the liquid start to separate out into layers. The bottom layer will be glycerin. The top layer is biodiesel.
  • Allow at least a couple of hours for the mixture to fully separate. You want to keep the top layer as your biodiesel fuel. If you like, you can keep the glycerin for other projects. You can either carefully pour off the biodiesel or use a pump or baster to pull the biodiesel off of the glycerin.

Using Biodiesel

Normally, you can use pure biodiesel or a mixture of biodiesel and petroleum diesel as a fuel in any unmodified diesel engine. There are two situations in which you definitely should mix biodiesel with petroleum-based diesel:

  • If you are going to be running the engine at a temperature lower than 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees C), you should mix biodiesel with petroleum diesel. A 50:50 mixture will work in cold weather. Pure biodiesel will thicken and cloud at 55 degrees Fahrenheit, which could clog your fuel line and stop your engine. Pure petroleum diesel, in contrast, has a cloud point of -10 degrees Fahrenheit (-24 degrees C). The colder your conditions, the higher the percentage of petroleum diesel you will want to use. Above 55 degrees Fahrenheit, you can use pure biodiesel without any problem. Both types of diesel return to normal as soon as the temperature warms above their cloud point.
  • You will want to use a mixture of 20% biodiesel with 80% petroleum diesel (called B20) if your engine has natural rubber seals or hoses. Pure biodiesel can degrade natural rubber, though B20 tends not to cause problems. If you have an older engine (which is where natural rubber parts are found), you could replace the rubber with polymer parts and run pure biodiesel.

Biodiesel Stability and Shelf Life

You probably don't stop to think about it, but all fuels have a shelf life that depends on their chemical composition and storage conditions. The chemical stability of biodiesel depends on the oil from which it was derived.

Biodiesel from oils that naturally contain the antioxidant tocopherol or vitamin E (e.g., rapeseed oil) remain usable longer than biodiesel from other types of vegetable oils . According to, stability is noticeably diminished after 10 days, and the fuel may be unusable after two months. Temperature also affects fuel stability in that excessive temperatures may denature the fuel.

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Here you'll learn how you can make your own diesel-replacement fuel called Biodiesel for about a $1.50 a gallon that can be run in most diesel vehicles.

We'll walk you through the simple steps and information you'll need to know to get started making your own fuel and driving past the gas stations! We also provide links at the bottom of each section to additional information so you can learn as much or as little as you'd like about each topic discussed.

So, sit back, pull up a chair, grab some popcorn, and get ready to learn how to start living gas station free!

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? Learn More About What Biodiesel Is Here

Compatible Diesel Engines In most cases, any diesel vehicle made before 2007 can handle up to 100% Biodiesel without any problem at all. Many 2007 and newer vehicles are able to handle blends up to about 20% Biodiesel. See Our List Of Recommended Diesels For Biodiesel Learn More About Using Biodiesel In 2007 & Newer Diesels Here

Step 2 Heat the oil up to 130-135° F.

Step 4 Mix up methanol (racing fuel) and catalyst (either lye or caustic potash ) to make something called Methoxide.

Step 5 & 6 Pour the methoxide into the processor & mix it for 2-3 hours.

Step 12, 13 & 14 Drain off the water, transfer it to a drying tank , and then dry out the fuel. After the fuel is dry, fill up the fuel tank on your diesel engine vehicle and drive away! Learn More About How To Make Biodiesel Here!

Free Getting Started Guide We created an incredible, all-inclusive Getting Started 10 Step Guide to get you started right making Biodiesel! We cover everything from finding the oil and equipment needed to make the fuel to how to process it into high quality Biodiesel that can be run in your diesel vehicles. We even cover how to deal with the waste products such as the glycerin! Click Here To See Our Free 10 Step Getting Started Guide

This complete workshop will teach you how to collect used cooking oil, how to filter it, how to create the Biodiesel recipe, how to react it into Biodiesel, how to wash it, test it, and then ensure that it's of high quality.

The DVD Set includes nearly 4 hours of personal Biodiesel instruction! It's received rave reviews from all around the world and is an excellent tool for learning how to successfully make (and even sell!) Biodiesel! Learn More About Our Making Biodiesel Workshop DVD Here!

BIODIESEL STARTER KITS These introductory Biodiesel starter kits come with everything you'll need to make a small batch of Biodiesel. They're a great way to see if Biodiesel would be right for you without spending much money. Each kit has detailed, easy to follow instructions to give you a feel for what it takes to make a batch of Biodiesel.

Within a few hours the glycerin will settle out and you'll have Biodiesel! There's no measuring, no calcuations, and no titration required. Just heat & mix! It's that simple! Click Here To Learn More About Our Basic Biodiesel Starter Kit

We give you nearly everything you'll need to get started testing waste oils to produce Biodiesel with. You just add used oil, additional methanol, and distilled water for the the oil testing solution. It's like getting an oil test kit and a starter kit all rolled into one! Click Here To Learn More About Our Deluxe Biodiesel Starter Kit

We give you everything in the Deluxe Starter Kit plus upgrade the catalyst to 2 lbs, increase the methanol to a full liter, and then add on a really nice mini magnetic stirrer and (2) 50 mL lab grade Erlenmeyer flasks. It's like getting the ultimate chemistry set you had as a kid, only this one will help you get started saving thousands on fuel! Click Here To Learn More About Our Ultimate Biodiesel Starter Kit

While it's simple in it's design, it makes great Biodiesel and works extremely well. You can use 30, 40, 50, or even 80 gallon water heaters to build one with and can build it in a weekend!

We've built several of these water heater based Biodiesel processors over the years and have always been impressed with not only their simplicity but their effectiveness at producing great Biodiesel! Click Here To See Our Water Heater Processor Kits Click Here To See Our Water Heater Processor Plans

It can be built in a couple weekends using nothing more than 55 gallon drums, steel pipes, basic plumbing, a pump, and some electrical wiring.

The plans are well laid out and extremely easy to follow! In just a matter of a few days or weekends, you can build an incredibly effective top-notch Biodiesel processor that will produce batch after successful batch of high-quality Biodiesel!

Click Here To See Our 55 Gallon Drum Biodiesel Processor Plans!

The plans include detailed drawings for every component you'll need to build and give detailed instructions on how to operate the processor to get the most out of your vegetable oil!

This processor has been successfully built by individuals, farmers, small business owners, and even commercial Biodiesel plants! It's simplicity of design makes it easy to operate and the Biodiesel it produces is so good that it can even be certified with the EPA to be sold on the commercial Biodiesel market! Click Here To See The MM500 Biodiesel Processor Plans!

The BioPro's will heat up your oil, mix in the chemicals, and react the oil into high quality Biodiesel! You just drain off the glycerin by product, start the wash cycle, and then return when it's finished. Then you simply pump the finished, ready to use Biodiesel into your vehicle with the handy fuel pump! These are truly like having your very own gas station! They're very easy to use, are extremely robust, and work extremely well!

We personally make all of our Biodiesel in a BioPro 190 and love how easy it is to use! We've made literally thousands of gallons of Biodiesel in our BioPro and continue to make batch after batch! The BioPro's are available in 3 different sizes to meet your individual needs and can even be accessorized with equipment that can shorten the time it takes to make a batch! Check out all three below!

It has a small footprint of 21" wide, 21" deep and stands just 57" high. It's small, compact size means it'll take up very little room while still churning out batch after batch of high-quality Biodiesel! Learn More About The BioPro 150 Automated Biodiesel Processor

We've used several BioPro 380's over the years and have been amazed at how well these machines can pump out batch after high quality batch of Biodiesel! They're not even all that much bigger than a BioPro 190 either! They stand 86" tall are 63" wide and 33" deep. The BioPro 380 does require both a 120 volt and a 240 volt electrical outlet to run plus the same water in connection and drain pipe of a BioPro 190 , but it definitely makes up for it in the volume it can output and the full automation that it gives the user to make Biodiesel! Learn More About The BioPro 380 Automated Biodiesel Processor

The same company that make the BioPro automated biodiesel processors manufacturer one of these Biodiesel dry washing systems and they call it a SpringPro T76 Dry Wash Tower. Inside the first tower is a fiber-based media that absorbs much of the remaining contaminants from freshly made Biodiesel. Then, the Biodiesel is passed through the second column which is filled with polymer resin beads that final polish the fuel making it ready for use in vehicles.

While each situation and setup is unique, we've created a great article that covers the basic things that should be considered for every Biodiesel production area; big or small. We start from the beginning and work our way through all the different steps you'll be doing when making Biodiesel and discuss the relevant equipment you may want to obtain before starting to make Biodiesel. Click Here To See The Article!

Lets assume you use 50 gallons every week & watch the savings add up. $626 saved every month $1878 saved every 3 months $3756 saved every 6 months $7512 saved every year!

Want to try out different scenarios? Download our free Return On Investment spreadsheet here . Learn More About Calculating Your Cost Per Gallon

BIODIESEL ARTICLES LIBRARY Since getting into Biodiesel in 2003, we've become known for our great informative articles on Biodiesel, how to make it, how to test it, and how to get the most out of it. We've archived many of these great articles into our Biodiesel Articles Library. We have everything from The Top 3 Tips For Successful Biodiesel Production to information on available tax credits for Biodiesel production & use . Stop by and see all the great content just waiting to be explored! Click Here To See The Article Library

We keep it up to date and pack it with relevant content to keep our customers informed about all the ways they can improve their Biodiesel production plus we add exciting articles about such things as the latest diesel engines and how they handle Biodiesel. Stop by & take a look at all the great information available to you to help you make the best Biodiesel possible! Click Here To See Our Biodiesel Blog

You'll love each issue as we cut through all the fluff and go right to the meat of a topic! After each issue is released, we make them available online for you to access anytime you need! Check out all our issues by clicking here!

By making Biodiesel, you can literally create all the fuel you may need for your diesel vehicles allowing you to never have to visit a gas station again! As you grow your production, you may even be able to provide fuel for others near you helping them break to break the foreign oil addiction as well!

At the end of the day, making Biodiesel is one of the most rewarding things you can do! Not only will it allow you to become more self-sufficient, but it can save you money too!

Now that you've learned the basics of Biodiesel, be sure to sign up for our newsletter and get started on your path to freedom from Big Oil! Should you have any questions, feel free to contact us! We're always happy to help! Click here for our contact information Thanks again & come back soon!

Graydon Blair, President Utah Biodiesel Supply

how to make biodiesel at home

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How to Prepare Used Cooking Oil for Biodiesel

Last Updated: November 26, 2023 Approved

This article was co-authored by wikiHow Staff . Our trained team of editors and researchers validate articles for accuracy and comprehensiveness. wikiHow's Content Management Team carefully monitors the work from our editorial staff to ensure that each article is backed by trusted research and meets our high quality standards. wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. In this case, 81% of readers who voted found the article helpful, earning it our reader-approved status. This article has been viewed 288,185 times. Learn more...

Biodiesel is a combustible fuel that is biodegradable and made from vegetable oil or animal fat. It is desirable as an alternative to petroleum fuel because it uses renewable resources that are less damaging to the environment to produce and emit less harmful greenhouse gasses when burned as fuel. Biodiesel fuel can be used in any vehicle with a compression ignition engine that can take regular diesel fuel. With the proper equipment and safety procedures, you can prepare used cooking oil from your kitchen or a restaurant to make your own biodiesel fuel.

Getting Used Cooking Oil

Step 1 Obtain used cooking oil.

  • Try a restaurant that sells a lot of fried food, like French fries or fried chicken, as they are very likely to have large quantities of used oil that they need to dispose of.
  • Ask restaurants if they use canola or olive oil, as these are typically the best oils for creating biodiesel. Avoid hydrogenated oils, which are generally higher in Free Fatty Acids and cause problems in biodiesel production.
  • You can buy new cooking oil from the grocery store, but using waste oil is less expensive and helps reduce waste that would otherwise end up in a landfill or in sewer pipes. [1] X Research source

Step 2 Examine the oil.

  • If the oil appears milky or cloudy, do not use it, as it is likely too high in water content and/or animal fats, which will interfere in the biodiesel production process.
  • Make sure to follow the proper procedures to dispose of cooking oil that you do not use. Contact your local waste management company or ask the restaurant you obtained the oil from to find out how they safely dispose of the oil.

Step 3 Pour your oil into clear plastic containers.

  • Ensure that any storage jug is completely clean, dry, and free of any other residue or materials, including water. Use a container with a tight lid and no cracks or leaks.
  • The oil may already have come to you in an acceptable container when you obtained it from a restaurant or other source. However, you will need several clean containers (at least 3) on hand for storing oil at each stage of the filtration process.
  • Label oil containers, and all other materials used in biodiesel production, clearly. At this stage, you can label the oil as “used oil” or “unfiltered oil” in order to avoid confusion in later steps of the process.

Filtering the Oil

Step 1 Heat the oil to 95ºF.

  • It’s best to complete this process outdoors or in a very well-ventilated area. Wear long rubber gloves, an apron, and safety goggles to protect against any splashing or spillage.
  • Try heating slightly more than one liter of oil to produce a liter of prepared oil, as some volume is lost during filtering.

Step 2 Use cheesecloth or a coffee filter to pour oil through.

  • For a larger amount of oil, you can use a screen placed over a large, clean bucket. Use a screen intended for paint or windows, and pour the used oil through it and into the clean bucket.
  • Discard the cheesecloth, coffee filter, or screen with the particles that were caught, or rinse thoroughly for future use if applicable.

Step 3 Reheat the oil to 140ºF.

  • Monitor the temperature closely with a cooking thermometer. The heat should not reach above 140ºF, as you will run the risk of steam explosions from the water that settles at the bottom.

Step 4 Pour the reheated oil into a container to settle.

  • Observe the container after 24 hours. The water should have settled into a defined layer at the bottom of the container, and it will be cloudy and light tan in color, not clear. [5] X Research source

Step 5 Transfer the oil to a clean container.

  • Water can negatively affect the quality of your biodiesel fuel. The less water content in the oil, the easier the next steps of the biodiesel process will be.

Testing the Oil’s Acidity (Titration Process)

Step 1 Dissolve lye into distilled water.

  • Use extreme care when handling lye, as it is a toxic substance. Wear eye protection and rubber gloves at all times, handle in a well-ventilated space, and be sure to label your lye and 0.1% lye solution clearly. If lye gets onto your skin, neutralize it immediately with vinegar, and rinse with cool water.
  • You can obtain lye as a household drain cleaning product, but you must ensure that it is 100% lye with no other ingredients added. If you order from a chemical supplier, you can use sodium hydroxide (NaOH) or potassium hydroxide (KOH)
  • Use the same ratio of lye to distilled water if you want to make a larger or smaller quantity of test solution. You can store this solution with a tight lid for testing of future oil batches.

Step 2 Add oil to isopropyl alcohol.

  • Wooden chopsticks work well to stir the oil and alcohol. [7] X Research source

Step 3 Add phenolphthalein solution.

  • You can use a pH meter, pH test strips, or a natural food-based pH indicator like red cabbage juice instead, but you may not get as easy-to-read or accurate indications as with phenolphthalein. [8] X Research source
  • You will use this indicator to determine the right level of lye to add to your oil to create an ideal pH level.

Step 4 Add 0.1% lye solution to your oil and alcohol mixture.

  • Add your lye solution using a graduated syringe or pipette so that you can note exactly how much lye is used. The number of milliliters used to turn the mixture pink for 15 seconds is the same number of grams you’ll need to add to the basic quantity of lye used for the biodiesel process. [10] X Research source
  • Aim for a quality of oil that needs 2.5-3.5 ml of lye to turn the mixture pink. You may need to try oil from a number of different sources to find this quality, which is ideal for beginners. Discard oil that requires a very high quantity of lye and try again with oil from a different source. [11] X Research source

Step 5 Ready your main quantity of oil.

  • Follow reliable and safe instructions to complete the rest of the biodiesel process.
  • Note that you will add the results of your titration test (the number of milliliters of lye needed to turn your mixture pink) to the quantity of lye your biodiesel instructions call for. [12] X Research source

Community Q&A

Community Answer

Video . By using this service, some information may be shared with YouTube.

  • These steps outline the process of preparing used cooking oil at home with basic household materials. You may be using a biodiesel kit to make biodiesel, which may include a settling tank and other machinery to prepare the oil, in which case you should follow the instructions that came with that machinery or someone experienced and qualified to operate it. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0

how to make biodiesel at home

  • The process of preparing used cooking oil and making biodiesel fuel with it involves highly toxic, flammable, and sensitive chemical materials that should be handled with extreme care and full safety equipment at all times. Consult a qualified chemist or biodiesel maker before attempting any chemical process with hazardous chemicals at home. Thanks Helpful 3 Not Helpful 0

Things You'll Need

  • Used cooking oil
  • Clean, dry plastic bottles or jugs
  • Cooking pot
  • Electric burner
  • Cooking thermometer
  • Cheesecloth, coffee filter, or screen
  • 2 glass containers
  • Lye (NaOH or KOH)
  • Distilled water
  • Isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol
  • Phenolphthalein solution
  • Graduated syringe or pipette

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About This Article

wikiHow Staff

To prepare used cooking oil for biodiesel, start by heating the oil to 95°F in a large cooking pot. Next, line a funnel with a cheesecloth or coffee filter, place it over a clean container, and strain the oil by pouring it through the funnel. After that, reheat the oil to 140°F and keep it at that temperature for 15 minutes to allow any water to separate from the oil. Then, pour the oil back into the container and let it sit for 24 hours so the water settles to the bottom. Finally, slowly pour just the oil into a new container. To learn how to test your filtered oil for acidity before turning it into biodiesel, keep reading! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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Before we go into the details of producing small amounts of Biodiesel at home we must first stress the importance of safety. The chemicals used in the process of making Biodiesel are dangerous and if used without taking the correct measures to protect yourself can cause serious injury or even death. Please, please be careful and make sure you are in a well ventilated area with access to running clean water.


  • 1 litre of Vegetable Oil- new (SVO) or used (WVO)
  • NaOH (lye / caustic soda), at least 6g. This is often used as a drain cleaner and can often be found in your local supermarket.
  • Methanol (at least 250ml).Used as an Antifreeze, can often we found in Motor supply shops


  • 1 to 2 litre Plastic Bottle – I often use an empty Vegetable oil container
  • A measuring cup
  • A container to mix the methanol and NaOH (methoxide) Not plastic. Heavy duty glass is recommended


Heating you VWO

If you are using waste oil (WVO), take one litre and heat to at least 120 deg c to remove all water. If water is present the oil will spit and pop, when the water is removed this will stop. Be careful – this can be quite a violent process. Then Allow to cool

If you are using new vegetable oil it should not contain any water so just heat to 55deg c when you are ready.


WARNING Making Methoxide is dangerous. Methoxide is highly toxic. For this reason, the safety of the design of equipment and workspace should be carefully considered before use, and protective clothing and a respirator should be worn during handling. Only as much as is intended to be used immediately should be created. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED

Take 250ml of Methanol and add 4g (about half a Teaspoon) NaOH.

If you are using Waste Vegetable Oil (WVO) just use 6g- 7g NaOH (about 1 level teaspoon)

Methanol and NaOH do not easily mix. Start with the methanol at body temp (not warm). NOTE that as you mix the two chemicals the temperature will increase. Do not panic… is normal. You will need to ensure all the NaOH is disolved in the Methanol, this could take over ten minutes.

After **ALL** the NaOH has disolved you may need to top up with fresh methanol as the process may cause some evaporation


When the Oil’s temperature has dropped to 60 deg c or less, using your funnel, pour the litre of oil into you dry plastic container. Take your methanol/NaOH (Methoxide) and add to the oil. Ensure the container is sealed securely then shake vigerously for about 15 seconds.

Leave your Biodiesel to “set”. You will notice that after about 10 minutes the glycerine or “soap” will settle from your mixture. It will take a day or two for the Biodiesel to completely separate. You will see two defined layers – the Biodiesel and the glycerine.Typically the glycerine layer is about the same or a bit more than the amount of methanol used.

Now remove the Biodiesel from the container leaving the glycerine and you are ready for the washing…

washing biofuel

Dirty Vs Washed Biodiesel


Although the glycerine or “soap” and water has separated from your Biodiesel – it will still need washing. Please do not violently shake your unwashed Biodiesel as it will form an emulsion that may take days or evn weeks to fully seperate. The gentle approach is whats needed.

Pour 1 litre biodiesel into a a clean and dry plaric bottle. Gently pour in 500ml water (body temp). Replace bottle top. Now GENTLY rotate the bottle end for end for about 30 seconds. After 30 seconds place bottle upright. Only If you have been GENTLE the water and Biodiesel will seperate immediatly. You will notice the water is not clear. Remove top and using your thumb as a stopper, turn bottle upsidedown and drain the water using your thumb as a valve. You have finished wash one.

Pour in another 500ml water and repeat wash one, except rotate GENTLY for about 1 minute. Drain as in wash one. You have finished wash 2.

Wash Three:

Again pour in another 500ml water and GENTLY GENTLY GENTLY shake bottle for a minute or so. When water and biodiesel seperate discard water in same fashion as before.

Another 500ml water and a bit more aggitation for about 1 min. After seperation of water and biodiesel Drain as above.

You should now be able shake fairly vigerously.

If the washing has been completed sucessfully the water should be almost clear. Be aware that in your later washes you should be able to shake mre violently although it will take considerably longer to seperate because the water forms tiny bubles in the biodiesel that take time to settle out.

Your washed biodiesel will be VERY CLOUDY and much lighter in colour than the unwashed biodiesel a. After a day or 2 settling and drying it will clear

Drying your Biodiesel

You must remove all that water from your biodiesel before using it in a diesel engine or risk damaging the engine. The oldest method of drying is settling.

In this method the water settles to the bottom of the tank or container over time and can be sucked out using a small pump or syphon.  For small batches it can take up to a day for the water and biodiesel to completely separate.

Over time the water will evaporate out of the biodiesel however if let in a muggy or wet environment this may not be suitable.

Once the water has all be removed you Biodiesel is now ready for use! Enjoy!

Please feel free to refer back to the process chart below.

Biodiesel Process Chart

How to Make Biodiesel With a Commercial Kit

this image is not available

"Make your own diesel for 70 cents a gallon," the Internet ad claimed. I was tired of paying for 30 gallons of regular diesel each week to fill my pickup, so I downloaded the instructions. It wasn't long before I was sucking used fry oil out of tanks behind a restaurant, and mixing it with lye and methanol in a 5-gallon bottle before pouring it into an old water heater.

Two hours later, I opened the valve at the bottom of the heater and black goo oozed from the hose, a biodegradable substance called glycerin. Before long the glycerin drained and gave way to a thin, clear, amber liquid: I had my first batch of biodiesel.

I made that first batch of fuel five years ago. If you factor in all the time I spent making the homebuilt biodiesel processor (a converted electric water heater) and experimenting with the design (some batches went, umm, less than perfectly--I had to replace two injection pumps on my truck), my experience with DIY fuels was often a frustrating and, occasionally, very expensive process.

Since then, the biodiesel industry and the technology have evolved. With the professionally engineered biodiesel systems available today, the process is simpler, safer, takes less time and yields more consistent results. So I decided to try one of the commercially available processors--it came boxed with all of the equipment and reagents needed to turn out consistent, high-quality biodiesel fuel. The FuelMeister processor used here has five fewer valves than the eight in my old homemade one. It also mixes the lye and methanol inside the tank to prevent the chance of dangerous spills.

Biodiesel Safety

Yes, you can make biodiesel in a plastic bucket with little more than some drain cleaner, gas-line de-icer and a wooden spoon, if you know what you're doing. But it can be dangerous. Splashing lye and/or methanol into your eyes can blind you. And electrical pumps unattended in the presence of hundreds of gallons of flammables will make your local fire marshall understandably nervous. In addition, poor-quality product will damage your very expensive diesel-injection pump. Our advice? Research biodiesel production properly before doing the mad-scientist routine.

this image is not available

2. Next we need to titrate to see how acidic the oil is. Add a small amount of phenolphthalein indicator dye to a carefully prepared mixture of methanol and sodium hydroxide. Add a sample of the acidic waste oil to the mix with a calibrated pipette.

3. Trickle in a prepared basic reagent until the mixture stays purple for 10 seconds of swirling. The quantity of reagent you add here determines the amount of methoxide (methyl alcohol/sodium hydroxide mixture) to add to the oil to complete the transesterification process. It takes some simple math or a look-up table to calculate the amount.

There's quite a bit of chemistry involved in transforming vegetable oil into biodiesel, in a process known as transesterification. Vegetable oil (VO) is made up of chains of fatty acids held together by glycerol molecules. Methanol breaks those chains of fatty acids apart. The corrosive, alkaline lye (sodium hydroxide, although you can also use potassium hydroxide) breaks the glycerol (a heavy alcohol) off those chains and the methanol (a light alcohol) in turn takes the place of the glycerol, leaving shorter, lighter, more combustible molecules. The result is an oil that burns well as a direct replacement for petroleum-based diesel fuel, with 12 to 15 percent glycerin left over at the bottom of the tank. The lye acts only as a catalyst in this case, and isn't consumed in the process.

On the other hand, waste vegetable oil (WVO) , like we get out the back door of restaurants, is somewhat acidic because it has free fatty acids, which are produced during heating and cooking. Fortunately, that acidity is neutralized by the extremely alkaline lye essential to the transesterification. Adding lye converts free fatty acids to a form of soap, most of which will drain out with the glycerin. The remaining soap is removed in the wash. Of course, we have to be sure that the amount of alkaline lye is just enough to counterbalance the acidity, or we wind up with poor-quality fuel.

5. Drain the glycerin from the bottom until you get lighter-colored, thinner biodiesel pouring from the valve. Then use water to wash the excess methanol, lye and soapy residue from the biodiesel. The water will settle to the bottom of the vessel in a few hours, where you can drain it out.

6. Allow the fuel to air out for a day or two with the top off to let any cloudiness (caused by a small amount of remaining water) dissipate.

You can't make biodiesel if you don't have a couple of high-quality restaurants in your area. Greasy spoons need not apply. That's because the more pure the WVO is, the better the biodiesel. Restaurants that overcook their food, don't change their oil frequently or cook lots of frozen food will have oil with high free-fatty-acid content.

As for water, less is better. As little as 5 percent in the WVO can leave you with a batch of soapy glop instead of biodiesel in your processor. You don't want to deal with the mess of cleaning up, so care in selecting feedstock will pay off in the long run. Heat a couple of ounces of the WVO in a frying pan. If it sizzles, there's too much water. This water can be removed by heating the oil to above 220 degrees in an open container, and then letting it cool down. But that consumes a lot of energy, and you'll need to baby-sit the whole business because of the danger of fire. Best just to find higher-quality WVO.

Busy restaurants are like food-cooking assembly-lines. They heat their oil at the same time, at the correct temperature, and fry about the same amount of food every day. They also change their cooking oil at the same time and in the same way every week. Other places aren't as careful, and their oil gives me less, and poorer quality, biodiesel per batch. I get almost all my WVO from two local restaurants, and I've never had water in the oil. Biodiesel processing has become popular. Restaurants used to be thrilled when I took the old oil away without charging them. Now WVO is a commodity not unlike crude oil. When regular diesel is about $2.50 a gallon, I pay $0.30 per gallon. When diesel was $4.85 a gallon, I paid $0.60 a gallon.

The 40-gallon processor we used here costs nearly three grand. We saved about $1.20 a gallon over the current price of petro-diesel, if you don't count the $2995 price tag for the processor. That means we'd have to make 62 or more batches to pay back the investment, or one batch every six days--for a year. A couple of batches can be fun, but spending every Saturday with greasy hands can get to be a chore. You'll also need to set up a place to store the WVO, the methanol and the biodiesel, all of which are flammable, and a place to work. Don't forget you'll also need to dispose of leftover poor-quality WVO, a fair amount of glycerin and the occasional batch of glop. There's an excess of methanol and alkali remaining after the transesterification, and commercial biodiesel producers recover the methanol and use it for the next batch. Your local authorities may have an opinion as to the proper, legal disposal of glycerin.

You'll still need to run a fair amount of conventional mineral diesel in your tank along with your home-brew fuel, especially in the winter when low temperatures turn even the best-quality biodiesel into jello.

Also, the current crop of direct-injection diesels don't fare well on concentrations of bio higher than 10 percent. Why? To thermally purge the diesel particulate filter (DPF), the injection system periodically injects fuel into the cylinder during the exhaust stroke to raise exhaust temperatures high enough to ignite the carbon inside the DPF. The carbon simply burns off, leaving the DPF ready to filter out more particles. Biodiesel, more viscous than mineral diesel, sticks to the cylinder walls and washes past the rings into the crankcase. This can dilute the engine oil, potentially causing engine damage. Most car manufacturers prohibit the use of more than 10 percent biodiesel if you expect any warranty protection. Biodiesel works best in older diesel vehicles with precombustion-chamber mechanical injection.

Caveats aside, you can make diesel fuel sustainably while also reducing pollution. Getting a good supplier of WVO when fuel prices are low should ensure an adequate supply when demand rises. Biodiesel stores very well in a cool, dry place if you squirt a little nitrogen from a welding supply shop into the top of the barrel. Making a lot of the stuff now might be one way to have your own little investment in home-brew biodiesel futures as regular diesel prices climb.

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