5 Things You Need to Know About Making Biodiesel at Home

Biodiesel, a petroleum-based diesel alternative produced by transesterification, works as efficiently as the commercially sold diesel and hardly requires any changes in the engine. For those who don’t know, biodiesel can be produced using any oil derived from plants such as soybean oil, cottonseed oil, canola oil, etc. or from animal fats, like beef tallow and chicken tallow.

Over the past five years, due to the spike in fuel prices, people have started moving towards energy independence and have started small private biodiesel production units. According to reports, biodiesel made from useless tires could solve fuel security problems. Tires are a big problem as they create a lot of waste. We can turn this waste into useful oil and help not only the environment but also the economy.

If you are new to biodiesel production, some of the crucial things to know are:

1. Safety

This should not come as a surprise, safety rules are necessary to avoid the contamination of soil and water resources, fires, and personal poisoning.

Vegetable oil to biodiesel conversion requires methanol and lye. Both these chemicals are extremely dangerous since they are not only inflammable but can also cause neurological damage in case of excessive exposure.

A number of biodiesel related accidents and fires have been reported over the last few years. The incidents were a result of pure neglect. Some of the safety measures you should never forget to take are:

  • Don’t process inside your house.
  • Don’t keep any oily rags in the vicinity, they are the main source of spontaneous combustion leading to huge fires.
  • Don’t use paint stirrers or drills to mix up the biodiesel. It can cause a fire.
  • Don’t use blenders to make test batches, the ingredients can react with rubber seals.

All hazardous and dangerous products should be kept in an approved metal fire cabinet when not in use.

2. Environmental Regulations and Feedstock Collection

Currently, non-commercial and small-scale biodiesel production areas are not subjected to regulations by the Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP). However, if complaints or problems arise due to your biodiesel product, your plant might be subjected to discretionary enforcement. Moreover, you’ll need approval if you wish to increase the size of the production unit.

The disposal of by-products, on the other hand, requires the approval of the PADEP and should be done based on the latest guidelines. These guidelines can be obtained from your local Department of Environmental Protection.

Apart from following the rules and regulations, the availability of feedstock is crucial for the process.

One gallon of biodiesel requires at least one gallon of feedstock oil. To reduce production costs and to prevent food for fuel conflict, using inedible oils as a major source for biodiesel production is advised.

Usually, feedstock and feedstock oil are difficult to obtain, hence pre-planning is the key to produce the required amount of biodiesel on a regular basis. The collection and transportation of feedstock including used cooking oils are regulated by PADEP.

3. Time Commitment and Cost Requirements

New users usually underestimate the time requirements for proper and regular biodiesel production. While planning your biodiesel plant, make sure you allocate enough time to maintaining the equipment since improper maintenance lead to accidents. Feedstock collection and fuel processing also require a lot of time.

Other time-consuming tasks include handling and securing chemicals, air drying and water washing the fuel, testing the duel quality, and disposing of by-products.

Even though the cost requirements per gallon of biodiesel fuel process are much lower than the commercially sold diesel, there are a few things you need to take into consideration beforehand.

A detailed analysis of input costs versus the resultant value of fuel produced needs to be performed. The analysis should also include labor costs.

Investment in equipment and facility, feedstock transport and acquisition, chemicals, energy used and by-product disposal costs need to be accounted for as well.

4. Handling and Disposing By-products

During the production process, a considerable amount of crude glycerol is produced. Other processors that use water for biodiesel purification produced two gallons of waste for every gallon of biodiesel.

Handling this amount of waste can be taxing. It needs to be compliant with the PADEP rules and regulations. This not only requires more time but capital as well.

The crude glycerol by-product has 25 percent methanol as well as some hazardous waste. Converting it into marketable glycerin is not feasible on a small-scale since the evaporation of methanol cannot be contained.

The land application of methanol and glycerol are prohibited by PADEP. The disposal options from crude glycerol including methanol are:

  • Disposing of in a landfill.
  • Anaerobic digestion.
  • Industrial combustion.

You have to get special permission from PADEP for all the above processes.

5. Fuel Quality and Storage

Commercial testing of the fuel quality can rip you off since one batch can cost anything between $1000 and $1500. However, simpler fuel testing techniques like sediment testing, methanol testing, water content, viscosity, and cloud point testing can help you find a rough estimate of how good or bad the fuel is. These tests can also help you in finding what needs to be improved during the production process.

To store the fuel, use proper, biodiesel approved and rubber free containers. Using in-line filters while pumping the fuel in storage containers is the best practice. Usually, biodiesel produces use of 10-micron water-blocking filter or a 1-micron filter.

Petroleum approved containers also work well for storing biodiesel. Once in containers, the fuel should be kept in a dry, clean, and dark environment.

If you plan on storing the fuel for a longer time, using algaecide or fungicide additive is recommended since biodiesel is an organic liquid. Also, during cold seasons, the fuel gels, hence, blending in petroleum or anti-gelling additive is pretty important.

For best engine performance, you must use it within six months. If you can, limit the storage time to 3 months in warm and humid weather since the fuel can develop algae or fungus.

Breaking Down the Process of Biofuel Production

Biofuels are renewable and sustainable forms of energy. They can reduce greenhouse emissions by almost 30%, which means that although they do release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, they do so in a very limited manner.

With the aim of building a green new world, and eliminating the need for fossil fuel and other traditional energy sources, people are now turning towards biofuel to meet their daily needs. Thus, we see biofuel being used for transportation in many countries. It’s also being used to generate electricity. The rural areas in many underdeveloped and developing countries will use biofuel for their cooking purposes as well. All in all, this particular fuel has diverse uses.

Biofuel is produced from biomass, which itself is treated as a clean energy source. We can produce biofuel from biomass through a series of steps. These steps can be performed even in our houses if we have the right materials. A quick overview of the whole biofuel production process is described below.

biofuel-production

1. Filtration

The purpose of the filtration process is to get rid of the unnecessary particles from the biomass. In this step, we take the waste vegetable oil and then heat it to a certain degree. Once the liquid has been heated, the waste particles will automatically separate themselves from the main mixture. Afterward, we just have to filter it with a regular filter paper.

2. Water removal

Next, we need to remove water from the residual gangue. If the water is allowed to stay in the mixture, it’ll end up delaying the overall process. By removing all the water, we can make the reaction move a lot faster. The easiest way to remove water from the mixture is by heating it steady at 212 degrees F for some time.

3. Titration

Titration is conducted on the mixture to determine the amount of chemical catalyst (like lye) that will be needed. The catalyst is a key component in any chemical reaction. It pretty much determines how fast and how much of a product we’re going to receive. Thus, this step is very important in the biofuel manufacturing process.

4. Sodium methoxide preparation

In this step, we take methanol (18-20% of the waste vegetable oil) and mix it with sodium hydroxide. This gives us sodium methoxide, which is also used as a catalyst in the reaction. It helps perform synthesis reactions on the reagents and facilitates the overall reaction process. Sodium methoxide is a key ingredient in this manufacturing process. It’s considered to be a standard substance used to accelerate the reaction, and yield better results.

5. Mixing and heating

Next, we heat the residue between 120-130 degrees F. Afterward, we mix it properly. This process aims to evenly distribute the mixture. This will help the mixture to settle down later on, and cool off, after which we can begin the extraction process. In a way, the mixing and heating stage can be seen as the final preparation before extraction.

biofuel-production

6. Setting

Once the mixing is completed, the liquid is allowed to cool and settle down, after which we can extract the final product, i.e. the biofuel.

7. Separation

After the liquid has cooled, the biofuel can be extracted from the top of the mixture. It’ll be found floating on top, like oil in water. To get the biofuel, we’ll have to remove the glycerin underneath it. This can be done by simply draining it out from the bottom, and keeping the fuel afloat. The biofuel is finally ready.

The whole process described above is for a small-scale operation. However, it can be scaled up as needed, given that you have the right tools, ingredients, and setup.

It should also be noted that chemical catalysts (such as lye) are used in the manufacturing process as well. Recently, however, scientists and researchers are looking into the use of ultrasonics as additional catalysts. According to recent observations, a combination of chemicals and ultrasonics can lead to a higher yield of fuel, and reduce the overall processing time. This also leads to better utilization of biomass.

Companies such as Coltraco (https://coltraco.com/) are now using ultrasonic systems and technology in a wide variety of fields, one of which is the renewable energy industry. And while the technology’s use in other fields has gained more traction in recent times, it shouldn’t be long before it’s used in biofuel manufacturing, as well as in other renewable energy sectors, in full swing.