Welcome to Life Unplugged  
Skip Navigation Links
Green Building
Alternative Energy
Alternative Fuels
Garden and Pantry
Home Jobs
Everything Else
Making Bio-Diesel for Self Sufficiency
by staff writer

making bio-diesel for use on a farm
Making bio-diesel is an idea that is gaining popularity with backyard enthusiasts and corporate processors. Its components are sustainable and domestically available plus, it is often more environmentally friendly than its petroleum based counterpart. Best of all, it can be made from multiple components and bio-diesel processing is very scalable; make a single gallon or a hundred based on your need and facilities.

Bio-diesel is an alternative fuel made from triglycerides (vegetable oils or animal fats) instead of crude oil. Straight Vegetable Oil (SVO) or Waste Vegetable Oil (WVO) along with animal fats can all produce acceptable bio-fuels, but some sources do work better than others. This flexibility is great since locally sourced regionally produced products can be used to process your bio-diesel.

SVO and WVO can be used as fuels with out processing, but this isn't considered bio-diesel. Burning oil directly requires special conversions to diesel engines and can be plagued by problems if not configured correctly, or if oils aren't of sufficient quality.

Bio-diesel processing requires hazardous chemicals that require proper handling, ventilation, and safety procedures. Make sure to understand the properties of each component and the techniques for handling each before attempting to make your own bio-diesel.

A surprisingly simple process strips the glycerol bond of triglycerides resulting in glycerin and methyl esters (the bio-diesel). The first step is to combine lye with methanol and gently agitate the mixture periodically until the lye is fully dissolved. Heat is produced as the two chemicals combine to form methoxide. Once the methoxide is ready, it should be set aside as the triglyceride feedstock is prepared for processing.

SVO and WVO are the two most common building blocks for bio-diesel. WVO is often available for free which makes it an attractive option, but it can be plagued by problems like high water content, sediment, or going rancid. SVO is easy to work with, but requires lots of work to grow and process or lots of money to buy. Most processors choose to work with WVO due to the overwhelming financial aspect, and the environmental benefits of recycling a waste product.

Regardless of the type of fat or oil used for processing, it should be heated to approximately 135°F and gently agitated. The methoxide is added to the oil and continues to circulate for approximately an hour. The total time required does depend on the quality of the oil, temperature of the mixture, and the rate of agitation. It is difficult to set a time for this stage, but experience will help you determine when the batch is ready for settling.

After a day or so, you should notice a darker layer in the lower portion of your container, and a larger lighter layer on top. The bottom is primarily glycerin and any soap produced in the process, and the top is your payoff - environmentally friendly bio-diesel. The bio-diesel can be siphoned off the top, or the glycerin can be drained from the bottom depending on your processing equipment. Many backyard bio-diesel processors make their
own equipment, but professional kits are available for sale.

The above steps are a simple version of the bio-diesel production process and are not intended to serve as instructions. Depending on the quality of fat or oil used titration may need to be used to determine the amount of lye necessary. Bio-diesel may also need to be washed to remove soaps and other stubborn sediment for best results.

For all the benefits of bio-diesel, it still isn't the perfect fuel for powering the modern homestead. It is easy enough to grow the crops and manually or mechanically press the oil, but it isn't practical (if possible) to produce the quality of lye and methanol required to manufacture bio-diesel. Understanding that current technology does not allow bio-diesel to be a 100% self sufficient process, it does allow you to make your own fuel using local resources.

Bio-Diesel is a great way to power your Lister Diesel Engine.