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Introduction to Biodiesel – Part 3

In part one of this three part series, I explained what biodiesel is and the raw materials you need to make it. In part two, I talked about the process and safety. You can read them here:
Introduction to Biodiesel – Part 1
Introduction to Biodiesel – Part 2.
In part three, I will talk about how to store the finished biodiesel and how to use it.

Storage:
Now that the process is complete, the finished biodiesel is ready for use. You probably won’t pour it directly into your tank, so you need to know how to store it. Biodiesel, like diesel, needs to be stored properly to avoid issues like absorbing water or growing algae. The main things to avoid are water, light, and oxygen. I find the best way to store the small amounts I make is in NATO-style Jerry cans. I buy my Jerry cans from the Lexington Container Company. Their cans are high quality at a reasonable price, but good cans are not cheap. They are extremely air tight and leak proof and great for storing gasoline too. I fill them full right up to the spout, leaving very little air space. That eliminates the oxygen and the can itself keeps water and light out. Biodiesel is said to have a fairly short shelf life. I can comfortably say I have stored it in Jerry cans for at least a year and it still burns great in my vehicle. I would not store it more than about a month in any other kind of small fuel can. Fifty-five gallon plastic drums are also an option. I keep petro diesel stored in those all the time but I haven’t used it for biodiesel.

The unprocessed oil actually stores better than biodiesel. When all of my Jerry cans are full of biodiesel, that gives me a good supply. At that point, I slow down my rate of processing because the oil has such a long shelf life. I store the oil in a work shed where animals can’t get to it. Oxygen and water are also bad for the oil, so I make sure the jugs are all full and the caps are on tight. I’ve had no issue processing oil that is over a year old when stored this way.

During winter months, you have to pay attention to gelling in biodiesel. The same issue exists with petro diesel, but biodiesel will gel at a higher temperature. This is why you shouldn’t use peanut oil in cold climates. I have a jug of peanut oil in my shop that gels at 40F. I keep it there to remind me never to use peanut oil. The soybean oil I use gels at a much lower temperature. Where we live, it can get down to 10F and even soybean oil-based biodiesel will gel. To keep the biodiesel usable in these temperatures, I use a diesel fuel treatment with a cold flow additive to keep it from gelling. It really works. As a test, I treated one can and not another. When it got down to 10F last winter, the treated can was still fine but the untreated can looked like candle wax! You have to treat it when it is warm. I have taken a gelled can into my house and let it warm up until it is completely liquid and treated it with good results.

How to use biodiesel
The diesel fuel you get at a service station can contain 5-10% biodiesel. They should label the pump telling you that. It is also dirty. Sludge will build up in your fuel tank over time. Biodiesel will dissolve this sludge because it is such a good solvent. When you start introducing biodiesel to your tank, you might eventually get a clogged fuel filter due to the sludge and sediment being removed from your tank. It will manifest itself in sluggishness when you accelerate. This is normal, so learn how to change your fuel filter and be prepared for it. The biodiesel is cleaning out your fuel tank.

Work your way up to higher blends slowly. Start out with something like 10%. Increase it a little more with each tank. When I started out, it took me about five tanks to work my way up to 50%. Then I jumped to 67% and 75% on the next two tanks. Finally I went to 100% on the next one. When the weather gets colder, I back off the blend quite a bit. I’ve had no problem varying the blends depending on the temperatures or the availability of my time to process batches.

The term “blending” might be misleading. There is no need to mix the biodiesel and petro diesel before pouring into your tank. I just pour it directly out of a Jerry can into the tank, then I top off with petro diesel from my stored fuel or at a service station. It will mix up in the tank.

Besides cleaning sludge from your tank and fuel system, Biodiesel has good lubrication characteristics which helps your engine. It also is a much cleaner burning fuel than petro diesel, making it good for the environment. Then there’s the famous “French fry” smell. You’ve probably heard that your exhaust will smell like a McDonald’s restaurant. It’s true. So be careful if you’re hungry.

Remember to follow your vehicle manufacturer’s recommendations about allowable biodiesel blends, especially if your vehicle is still under warranty. I love biodiesel but I wouldn’t put it in a brand new car. Home brew biodiesel is for the person who likes DIY projects. It is best to have an older diesel vehicle if you want to brew biodiesel. They aren’t hard to find because diesel engines last so long.

Why make biodiesel?
Is home brewing biodiesel for everyone? Of course not. It is a serious chemical process, but it isn’t really that complicated. You want to do your homework and use property safety procedures. The way I make biodiesel, it is not what I would call sustainable. In hard times, oil might still be available but methanol could be very hard to find. The catalyst is easy to store. Methanol stores well in 55-gallon drums. Oil is also easy to store. With one 55-gallon drum of methanol and 250 gallons of oil, I have the ability to produce 250 gallons of biodiesel that would keep my Liberty running for 5000+ miles during a diesel shortage. That wouldn’t last forever, but it would be a nice asset to have during a short-term situation.

How often I make a batch depends on how much free time I have and the current cost of petro diesel. It costs me about $1 per gallon to make biodiesel including all the raw materials, electricity, and even the fuel to go pick up oil. In 2014 when diesel was close to $4 per gallon, I was processing about every other weekend. This year the price of diesel has been much lower. Today, it’s about $2.30 per gallon so I haven’t made much biodiesel lately. I don’t make it just for the financial reasons. If you factor in my time, it’s a pretty low wage. To me, it represents one aspect of many in the pursuit of a life of self-sufficiency. I want to have the skill in my bag of tools. Ask yourself how much will a few gallons of biodiesel be worth if there isn’t any at the stations.

Below in the Resources section, you’ll find links to several of the web sites I found useful when I was learning. In the future, I’ll share more details about how we learned by trial and error and how we built successively larger processors. I’ll even talk about how I added some automation to our processor with a $20 Arduino board. If you’ve read this far and I still haven’t scared you off, keep reading future posts to learn more about biodiesel. Just like me, biodiesel might just play a role in your journey to self-sufficiency.

Resources for this post:
What is biodiesel? http://biodiesel.org/what-is-biodiesel/biodiesel-basics
Wikipedia page about biodiesel: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biodiesel
Where I get my NATO Jerry cans: http://www.lexingtoncontainercompany.com/Nato-Jerry-Cans.html

Please share your thoughts and opinions in the Comments.
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