Biodiesel is touted as being an answer to high gasoline prices, especially since it can be made at home in quantities sufficient to run equipment and cut fuel costs. To go from a homespun operation to selling biodiesel on the open market is a giant leap, and not one to be undertaken lightly. This article gives an overview of what is required to make and sell biodiesel.
- Skill level:
Things you need
- Heavy rubber gloves
- Rubber apron
- Eye protection
- Fire extinguisher
- Vegetable oil, clean and unused
- Blender or food processor
- Plastic bags, sandwich size
- HDPE (#2 plastic) container with bung and screw-on cap
- 2 funnels
- 3 two-liter soda bottles
- Duct tape
Assemble the ingredients needed to make biodiesel. The ingredients and supplies listed above are for making a small test batch of biodiesel. In order to make enough fuel to sell, larger machines will be needed. The process, however, is the same.
Adjust the scale for the weight of the plastic bag, then measure 3.5 grams of lye. Lye absorbs water from air quickly, so seal the bag with as little air in it as possible. The water lye absorbs can interfere with biodiesel reactions. Set bag aside.
Measure 200ml of methanol and pour it into the HDPE bottle using one of the funnels. This funnel can now only be used for methanol. Like lye, methanol also absorbs water quickly, so keep everything as airtight as possible. Use the second funnel and add the lye to the bottle. Swirl the two together to mix them gently until you can no longer see any particles. The mixture will get warm as the ingredients combine.
Heat the oil to 54.4 degrees Celsius and pour it into the blender. Pour the methanol and lye solution into the blender. Place the lid on the blender and run at low to medium speed for 20 to 30 minutes. After thoroughly mixing, pour the solution into one of the 2-liter bottles. The mixture will contract as it cools, and air may need to be added to the bottle. Allow the contents to settle for at least 24 hours. When settled, there will be distinct layers of fluid in the bottle.
Pour the top, pale layer into another 2-liter bottle. The bottom, darker layer is glycerine. If the two layers mix when pouring, let them resettle and then separate them again. Now it is time to wash the fuel.
Make a 2-mm hole in the bottom of two unused 2-liter bottles. Use duct tape to cover the holes and prevent leaking. Put half a litre of tap water into one of the empty bottles. Pour the fuel into the same bottle, and screw the cap on tightly. Lay the bottle on its side and roll back and forth until the water and oil are completely mixed. Let it settle completely so that the oil rests on top of the water. Remove the duct tape and drain the water. Seal the hole and pour the fuel into the other empty bottle. Add water and repeat above process. Clean the first bottle so that it can be used again. The fuel needs to be washed four times. When finished, the fuel can go into a container without a hole.
Let the fuel dry. The fuel will be translucent when dry of all water. Depending on temperature and humidity, this could take anywhere from a few hours to a few days. The fuel is now ready to be used.
Speak to your local commercial planning department regarding zoning and permits. There are specific permits and codes that have to be met in order to make and sell biodiesel, on local, state and federal levels. The fire marshal will also have to be contacted for information regarding storage not only of the end product, but also for the chemicals that go into making biodiesel. There are also the by products of diesel production, such as glycerine to store, dispose of, or sell.
Contact the Environmental Protection Agency regarding setting up a biodiesel operation, as there are stringent national standards to which you must adhere. These standards include everything from how and when the fuel can be sold, how it is made, proof of purity, and any necessary additives. There are renewable fuels standards and greenhouse gas emission standards that have to be met on a recurring basis.
Determine start-up goals and costs. These include, but are not limited to, land, buildings, tanks, trucks, and equipment. One thing to consider is to start a co-op. This is a group of people working together to make and sell biodiesel on a smaller scale. Speak to existing co-ops about how to start one locally. A co-op can also buy biodiesel that is already made and then sell it at a retail price, as well as make biodiesel to sell to other co-ops.
Study current market conditions. Find out if biodiesel has a market locally, and if there will be competition. Competition is good, but over saturation of a market could impede the success of your business.
Tips and warnings
- To make sure that all required laws are followed, have a lawyer handle the filing of forms. Look for legal representation from a firm or individual that is experienced in the alternative fuels markets.
- Methanol is the biggest danger in the biofuel-making process. While lye is caustic and fuel can burn, methanol is extremely poisonous. Wear the proper protective gear and work in a well-ventilated area. Vinegar can neutralise lye and the lye/methanol mix, so keep some nearby. Do not use open flame around fuel, as it is flammable. Keep a chemical-based fire extinguisher by the vinegar in case of emergency.
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